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Hard-bitten local newspaper identities

Macarthur regional newspaper history

The story of hard-bitten local newspaper identities and their publications has been told in a recent article published in British academic journal Media History. Local author and historian Ian Willis details the travails of local reporters, printers, owners, and others who made the news across the region for over 140 years.

These newspapers have told the story of the towns and villages across the Macarthur region and lives of people who have lived there – local weddings, births, deaths, marriages and other family events; men going to war and coming home; natural disasters, elections, and lots more. Some of these newspapers can be found on the National Library’s Trove Database and they include the Camden News and the Picton Post.

The digital revolution has drained these ‘local rags’ of their advertising, and crucified their profitability and their business models. Some still survive and struggle on like the Camden-Narellan Advertiser while other mastheads like the Camden Leader (1910-1912) have come and gone with no copies in existence. Some green shoots have emerged in recent times in print and online with the Oran Park Gazette and the South West Voice.

A selection of newspaper mastheads from the Macarthur region in 2018. (I Willis)

Article summary

The article tells the story of local newspapers in the three New South Wales market towns of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton that made up the Macarthur region. Each community had a series of local town-based newspaper mastheads from the 1880s, some lasting longer than others.  These local newspapers were run by hard-bitten owner-editors who were salt-of-the-earth people who had printer’s ink running in their veins. They survived on the smell-of-an-oily-rag and were assisted by family members who doubled as reporters, printer’s assistants, photographers, stringers and ‘Jack-of-all-trades’.

Amongst these colourful characters and local identities were: the gold-field printer and colonial-newspaper baron William Webb who owned a string of country newspapers; English journalist William Sidman who had his lead-type face confiscated in Paris for bullets during the Franco-Prussian war; and New Guinea war veteran and printer Syd Richardson, the first regional newspaper baron. 

These newspapers used local history to allow their readers to reflect on their past by storytelling and creating an understanding of their cultural heritage. The local press lionised pioneer settler stories, and the most important of these were the exploits and activities of the New South Wales Corps Officer Captain John Macarthur. The legacy of this process was to turn the historical figure of Macarthur into a local legend and national hero, and use these stories to contribute to the construction of place and a regional identity.

Article details

The article has the title Local Newspapers and a Regional Setting in New South Wales: Parochialism, mythmaking and identity and is part of a special edition of Media History called Provincial Newspapers: Lessons from History.

The special edition has been published by the Routledge stable of academic journals in the United Kingdom. Access to the full details of the article can be found here.

Local news is the heart and soul of small communities and is the essence of place and the stories that make it up.

A variety of local newspapers and other items that were all part of the temporary display created by Jason Sharpe at the 2021 Camden Show sponsors’ event. (I Willis)
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A new Macarthur regional masthead

Smarter Macarthur Magazine

Another free bi-annual colour magazine has recently come to my attention called Smarter Macarthur. While it has been present for a few editions this newspaper nerd did not notice it, probably because it is a ‘business-to-business’ publication in the  local media landscape.

Smarter Macarthur Magazine2 2019
The Smarter Macarthur magazine is a new glossy colour publication in the Macarthur region of NSW. The print edition was originally published in 2014. (I Willis)

 

The publication is yet another masthead that has appeared in the region in recent decades as the region grows as part of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe. While others have sort out the general reader this magazine is targeting a different audience. This is the first time that a Macarthur regional publication has pitched itself solely at the business readership.

The masthead is published by Smarter Media with a circulation of 5000 copies. It is letter-boxed to businesses across the region,  dropped in professional premises and eateries, and distributed to advertisers and local networking groups.

Smarter Macarthur was originally published in 2014 and is produced with 200gsm Gloss Artboard cover and internal pages of 113gsm Gloss Artpaper, which gives the full colour magazine a quality feel and presentation. The publisher stays local by employing local photographers Brett Atkins and Nick Diomis.

The 52pp print edition for Winter/Spring 2019 is supported by an online presence.  There is a Facebook page and a website , both appearing in 2014, with the website including a directory of advertisers.

Editor Lyndall Lee Arnold maintains that:

Our aim to produce quality content, to showcase local businesses within the area.

The print magazine carries news articles of local interest, stories of local businesses and advice pages on leadership, technology and health. The editorial approach of the magazine is to stress the local.

The editorial policy and the presence of the magazine strengthens regional identity and the construction of place by telling the stories of the local businesses and their owners.

Smarter Macarthur Magazine Screenshot 2019-08-07

This is a screenshot of the website established in 2014  for the Smarter Macarthur bi-annual glossy free colour magazine. (I Willis)

 

On the website there is a testimonial page where local business owners where Garth & Christian Muller from Ultimate Karting Sydney maintain:

Being on the front cover of Smarter Macarthur along with our business story being featured inside the last issue has been so positive!

Macarthur businesses seem to want to support a new addition to the local media landscape.

On the Facebook page the editor maintains that she is looking to the future and the growth of the regional market place with the construction of the Western Sydney Airport, apply named Nancy Bird-Walton Airport, at Badgerys Creek.

The success of the publication will add to community sustainability by strengthening the local economy,  job creation and economic growth.

It will be interesting to see if the Macarthur region’s competitive market place continues to support this masthead.

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Despite the doom and gloom in Australian media, the outlook for regional papers remains strong

Despite the doom and gloom in Australian media, the outlook for regional papers remains strong

 

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The essence of local newspapers is that they are a mirror of the small communities that produce them.
Author supplied, Author provided

Ian Willis, University of Wollongong

Is the “local rag” doomed under the Nine-Fairfax merger and the re-shaping of the Australian media landscape?

Does the creation of the new media-entertainment conglomerate threaten the very existence of the local newspaper?

Media commentary has justifiably questioned the continuation of quality journalism and editorial independence of the metropolitan dailies in Sydney and Melbourne.
Yet there has been a silence on the threat to small country and suburban mastheads.

The Australian Community Media division of Fairfax Media controls 16 Sydney suburban mastheads, around 110 local newspapers across New South Wales and ACT and a further 50 or so local mastheads across the country.




Read more:
Nine-Fairfax merger rings warning bells for investigative journalism – and Australian democracy


Media consolidation and rationalisation threatens the viability of these small community newspapers.

Studies in the United States have shown that communities suffer when local newspapers shut their doors. The level of scrutiny of government declines, along with governance standards and the health of local democratic processes.

But will the local newspaper actually disappear for good? British newspaper historian Rachel Matthews has stated that the death of the local newspaper has been predicted more than once over the past 250 years.

Local papers have a long history in Australia. Newspaper historian Rod Kirkpatrick states that the first regional newspapers outside the capital cities appeared in Launceston in 1825, Geelong in 1840 and Maitland in 1841.

Some local newspapers became part of family press dynasties across rural Australia, and local press barons protected their interests by forming country press associations to lobby colonial governments.

Journalism in local colonial newspapers was driven by parochialism and notions of progress. Little has changed today.

The importance of the local newspaper

The essence of local newspapers is that they are a mirror of the small communities that produce them. Regional historian Louise Prowse says the local newspaper is central to the life of country towns.

Country and suburban journalists and editors are embedded in their communities, and as Belinda Sanders, the editor of the District Gazette in regional NSW, points out, readers have direct access to them.

The cover of The District Reporter newspaper for 6 July 2018. The masthead is published by Wombaroo Publications in Camden NSW. It is a weekly 16pp tabloid.
The District Reporter

Lee Abrahams, the owner and editor of the The District Reporter in Camden, NSW, aims to tell the “local people about their local area and their stories are part of that agenda”.

‘New shoots’ appear in the field

Some suggest that a new business model is already emerging. British academic journalist Richard Sambrook has suggested that with “highly targeted journalism, local cost operations can work”.

Reports of the emergence of free regional newspapers are positive signs of the endurance of the local newspaper model. Cheryl Newsom, the editor of the Canowindra Phoenix, another small-town NSW paper, says the focus is on “telling positive stories from regional NSW, keeping the local community at its centre”.

The cover of the Canowindra Phoenix newspaper for 19 July 2018.
Canonwindra Phoenix

The Phoenix is published every Thursday in the community of Canowindra, population 2,300. Around 500 copies are letter-boxed, 360 delivered to roadside mailboxes and another 440 droped at businesses in surrounding towns. There are 1,100 email subscribers, and readers can also follow the newspaper on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.




Read more:
A modern tragedy: Nine-Fairfax merger a disaster for quality media


The Phoenix group has local editions at Canowindra, Forbes and Parkes with circulations of 2,000, 3,000 and 3,500, respectively. The Parkes edition was launched in March 2016 and Forbes in July 2015. Another edition was launched in Hilltop and later sold.

Publisher Sarah Maynard says the Phoenix group employs a staff of 12 and attributes the success of the newspapers to them being free, as “no one wants to pay for news anymore”. The newspapers support the local community and the newspapers receive strong support from regular advertisers, particularly local councils.

Confidence in the future of the local newspaper

In recent years, there has been extensive rationalisation and consolidation within the country press mastheads of the large media companies and the loss of journalists’ jobs.

Even with these uncertainties and the threat of further cost cutting with the Nine-Fairfax merger, there are those who have confidence in future of the local newspaper.

Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader, Michael McCormack, recently said that “regional newspapers are still viable and have a future”.

A former country journalist and editor, McCormack stated:

…country newspapers are still thriving. They’re doing it because they’re producing the sort of parish-pump stuff that isn’t available anywhere else and good luck to those little rags.

Even in the age of digital disruption and media consolidation, there are green shoots and new mastheads.

Ian Willis, Honorary Fellow, University of Wollongong

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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The history of the local newspaper in the Macarthur region

Local historian and author Dr Ian Willis has had a proposal accepted for an article in Media History, an international media journal published in the UK.

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Macarthur Signage
The article outlines the history of local newspapers in the Macarthur region  and covers the towns of Campbelltown, Camden and Picton.

Local newspapers were rationalised, corporatised and consolidated from the 1950s as  Sydney’s urban growth moved into the region.

By the late 20th century changes in technology and innovations set in as the local newspapers were re-shaped  by the growth and arrival of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe.

Macarthur_Advert_1958
Macarthur Advertiser 1958

The article will show that is recent times digital disruption has taken a toll, but there are green shoots with new mastheads appearing in some of the new suburbs in the region.

Media History is an international academic journal published in the UK. Its website states that:

Media History is an interdisciplinary journal which welcomes contributions addressing media and society from the fifteenth century to the present. Its perspective is both historical and international. It explores all forms of serial publication in manuscript, print and electronic media and encourages work which crosses the boundaries of politics, culture and communications.

Abstract for journal article in Media History (UK)

Provincial and regional newspapers have been defined by parochialism and localism. They have pandered to local sensibilities and a need to serve their community.  Some have argued that local newspapers are a subset of their cultural environment, a form of structural functionalism. For others regional newspapers play a part in placemaking and community identity. The stories they carry are critical to the memory making. They act as a mirror to the values and attitudes of the local community.

This article will test these propositions and others by an examination of a number of regional newspapers that have been published in the Macarthur region of New South Wales. The discussion will analyse the historical continuity and change in the landscape of the area’s regional press and the actors who were part of it.

Colonial newspapers appeared in the late 19th century in the three market towns within the region at Campbelltown, Camden and Picton. The local press reflected the nature of the settler society and mirrored the British provincial press in these small rural outposts of the British Empire. By the early-20th century the Campbelltown News, the Camden News and the Picton Post, were the face of these thriving communities. During the Interwar period this trio were joined by the Camden Advertiser.

The forces of war and depression influenced the regional press as it did local communities. Nostalgia, the doings of local politicians, and the tension between profit making and journalism have all played a part in this story, while the inverted pyramid arrived mid-century.

Corporatisation, consolidation and rationalisation re-shaped the regional press with the arrival of Sydney’s rural-urban fringe in the 1950s. Competition from radio, new technology and innovations brought more changes and by the 21st century digital disruption was in full swing.

The owners of the Macarthur regional press were local identities and opinion leaders. Their editorial positions reflected their political allegiances. They encouraged patriotic loyalty in wartime and the war at home. Editor owners practiced a type of censorship and their silence around a number of social issues was deafening. Their publications re-enforced the status quo, and existing social divisions, cultural norms, while acting as a form of regional voice.

As technology and local demographics have changed so have the nature of Macarthur regional press. Where once black and white newspaper were sold for pennies there are now colourful free publications, and circulations which are still a guide to the sphere of influence of the local newspaper. While in recent times some of the highest rates urban growth in Australia have encouraged green shoots with the appearance of new mastheads in the form of newsletter newspapers.

Dr Willis recently posted an item on this blog about local newspapers in the Macarthur region. 

In this post Dr Willis wrote:

The local in local newspapers

In the Oran Park Gazette Lisa Finn-Powell maintains that the community newspaper does have a future. She argues that it provides a way for members of the community to support each other by celebrating local events, anniversaries and traditions. Local newspapers make people feel good about their neighbourhood.

This post was also the subject of a post on the Professional Historian’s Association webpage.

The post states:

…this post introduces PHA NSW and ACT member, Ian Willis’ blog, Camden History Notes. Camden is a town southwest of Sydney, situated on land belonging to the Dharawal (Tharawal) people.

Ian’s blog presents stories about the district’s people, its history, heritage and traditions. He draws on the memories and experiences of local families, local identities, community organisations and local institutions.