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November 27, 2022

Expansionist plans! The Echo embarks on the Lismore foray: a town too far

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Thirty-one years have passed since Nicholas Shand dreamed up this newspaper and gathered a band of fellow dreamers to help him make it real.

In those 31 years The Echo has grown, like a magic beanstalk, far taller than we ever imagined, and it is now a feature of Shire life.

The fifth instalment of our ongoing series on the history of our beloved rainbow rag continues this week, written by the newspaper’s longest-serving drudge, David Lovejoy.

The two Echo editors Nicholas Shand and Jennie Dell interviewing John Howard at Southern Cross University in the early days of the Lismore Echo.

The content of the Lismore Echo was to have a significant overlap with the Byron Shire edition in the form of contributors: Mungo MacCallum, Lilith’s astrology column, television guide, and so on. This would bring down the running costs of the new publication, as would sharing production facilities with its older sister.

We carefully selected the new crew: Jennie Dell as editor, Mac Nicholson (a former Lismore Shire councillor) for advertising sales and Graham Askey as circulation manager and general factotum. Jennie was a journalist who had been around in the area since at least the celebrated 1973 Aquarius Fesitival in Nimbin. She was also married to the chief psychiatrist of the area health service, whose official title was ‘Master of Lunacy’.

Fair means or foul

As we prepared for the launch of the new paper in June that year, we were aware that Australian Provincial Newspapers, proprietors of the daily Northern Star, would resist any intrusion on their turf – by fair means or foul. The foul I was already acquainted with; there had been an earlier attempt to start an independent weekly paper in Lismore, and my wife Wendy and I had been contracted to supply the typesetting. The paper only lasted a few issues, and according to its owner the Northern Star’s senior advertising bully had gone round the cinemas threatening that any ads placed in the rival publication would mean no editorial reviews or support for their films in The Star. The ‘fair’ means came just days before our first edition with the launch of APN’s weekly Lismore Happenings.

Despite saturation promotion from the Northern Star, its new offshoot never took root. In fact Lismore Happenings folded after a few months and we were left in clear possession of the weekly market. But we had our own problems. Sharing production facilities was not as simple as I had thought; at any rate the electronic system I had devised was too far ahead of its time. There were no fibre optics or broadband channels in those days, so our modem link had to slowly squeeze all the text from the Lismore office to Mullumbimby, where I composed the pages on a primitive layout program. It was all much more laborious than expected.

So more money had to be found to equip a production facility in our Lismore office, and as de facto technology manager I had to split myself between the two locations to keep them both running. Nor was it any easier for Nicholas, who similarly had to commute to help Jennie, whose budget did not run to additional journalists, or Jeff Dawson, who oversaw the Lismore sales effort.

Somehow or other the Lismore Echo struggled through its first year, losing about $70,000. The material we imported from the Byron Echo did not attract the generally more conservative Lismore readers – even the satirical television guide provoked merely bewildered complaints.

Echo franchise

It occurred to Nicholas and me that when we hit on the idea of franchising The Echo we had thought we had a winning formula for newspaper content. But we didn’t; what we had was an audience for that content, and it existed only in the Byron Shire.

Worse still, Lismore in those days was controlled by a few old families with a deep investment, both financial and emotional, in the Northern Star – which itself had been an independent local paper until its fairly recent takeover by APN. They did not like interlopers from Byron, and most of the major businesses refused to advertise with us.

There were staff changes too, which did not help. Advertising people came in enthusiastic and went out defeated. Even Jennie left and was replaced by Robin Osborne. Then, ominously, Nicholas totalled his car on the side of a bridge on the way to Lismore and had to spend several days in hospital having a metal plate inserted in his mangled arm.

Our decision to sell the paper was not taken lightly, but once taken it considerably lightened the load we had taken on ourselves. We refused to offer it to APN, and there were no other buyers available, so it was sold to the staff for a few thousand dollars, less than the value of the furniture and equipment.

The paper, renamed the Northern Rivers Echo by the new owners as a gesture of independence from us, had to endure a few further lean years before it became profitable, but under general manager Heather Williams it eventually thrived. In fact it thrived so well that Heather and her fellow shareholders sold out to APN in 2008. The paper – having reverted to its original Lismore Echo title – was then purchased by News Corp in 2016 as a minuscule element of its strategy to own everything. There is a sad irony in the sibling of the Byron Shire Echo now being controlled by the most deservedly reviled figure in newspaper publishing. However, it is almost certain that Rupert Murdoch is blissfully unaware of his good fortune.

More Echo history articles

The end of fun: David Lovejoy concludes the story of the...

While the drama of general manager Max Eastcott’s departure was playing out, The Echo passed its tenth birthday, and we marked the jubilee with a fourth awards night.


How do you dismiss a general manager?

Founding editor Nicholas Shand returned from his long-service leave at the end of March, 1996. He was highly amused at the comic opera scenario playing out in Council, and at The Echo’s unavoidable central role in it.


The danger of delegated authority as The Echo gambles its reputation...

When in February 1996 Fast Buck$ obtained a file that described a developer in Byron Bay obtaining preferential treatment from Council, he published an advertisement in The Echo headed, ‘Something stinks at Hog’s Breath’.


Changing Council and premises

By the election of September 1995 most people had had enough of Cr Ross Tucker and his crew. Although at that stage the evidence of the colossal mismanagement of Council’s planning and finances had yet to emerge


Ross and Max to the fore: Dirty tactics key to undermining...

As the Club Med battle described in the previous episode approached its climax, the leader of Council’s conservatives, Ross Tucker, decided on a diversion.


Club Med and the Gang of Six

By the beginning of 1993 The Echo had outgrown its A4 page size, and our first large-format edition appeared in March that year. The increased work combined with the ritual of putting the paper to bed on Monday nights became quite stressful.


The newspaper wars and A Small Wooden Tray Called Albert

In the mid-nineties the local newspaper scene was heating up almost as much as the always feverish local politics.


Re-zoning back on the agenda: Beating off the Academy rort

During the 1987–91 term of Council an application was made to develop a large site at Broken Head as an ‘academy’.


Expansionist plans! The Echo embarks on the Lismore foray: a town...

A major milestone in The Echo’s history occurred in 1991: we decided to start another weekly newspaper.


The Echo – The Thinking Dog’s Paper

Thirty-one years have passed since Nicholas Shand dreamed up this newspaper and gathered a band of fellow dreamers to help him make it real.


Printers and politicians: The Echo gives voice to the community

After the first year we moved the newspaper to Brunswick Heads. Lured by cheap rent, we took three small shops in an arcade and filled them with the newspaper office, production facilities and, significantly, a printing press.


The Echo dream bursts into being with a dash of controversy

Part two: So far in the story, Nicholas Shand has been unable to get local media to cover police hooliganism in the Main Arm Valley, and has invited David Lovejoy to join him in starting a newspaper…


Echo beginnings: Tales from the Magic Beanstalk…

Thirty-one years have passed since Nicholas Shand dreamed up this newspaper and collected a band of similar dreamers to help him make it real. In those 31 years The Echo has grown, like a magic beanstalk, far taller than we ever imagined, and it is now one of the primary institutions of Byron Shire.


Support The Echo

Keeping the community together and the community voice loud and clear is what The Echo is about. More than ever we need your help to keep this voice alive and thriving in the community.

Like all businesses we are struggling to keep food on the table of all our local and hard working journalists, artists, sales, delivery and drudges who keep the news coming out to you both in the newspaper and online. If you can spare a few dollars a week – or maybe more – we would appreciate all the support you are able to give to keep the voice of independent, local journalism alive.


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