Editor Col Kerr began his journalism career in community newspapers before venturing into national and international titles, which only affirmed to him why community newspapers work.
Mr Kerr began at Cumberland Newspapers in Sydney, the forerunner of NewsLocal NSW, in the 1960s, a few short years after Rupert Murdoch bought the Parramatta-based suburban chain from Earl White.
From there he went on to senior editorial posts at The Australian and The South China Morning Post, before returning eight years to quietly slip behind the editor’s desk at The Northern District Times, on Sydney’s north shore.
Mr Kerr explained to The Newspaper Works why community newspapers work so well, with a greater immunity to print revenue drops than metropolitan titles.
The secret to success, he says, is the proximity of community newspapers to their audiences.
“The beauty of a community newspaper [is that] we’re telling our audience, in news and advertising and everything else, what is very close to me.”
Being in touch with people in the community means local newspapers can publish personal stories that create a dialogue.
This proximity, Mr Kerr explains, can be defined by a system of “concentric circles” identified by an extensive reader survey conducted by NewsLocal.
“The first circle was really “my house and my street”. The second circle was “my neighbourhood”. The third circle after that was the council area or political electorate,” he says.
“After that, they’re pretty much off the radar – people are not as interested in what is happening beyond those inner circles, and we’re right at the centre.”
Local newspaper audiences want to read about solutions to issues close to them, he says – meaning the celebrity, “babies at Taronga Zoo” and major crime stories that gain headlines in metro papers don’t fly in a community context.
“They want to know where the roundabouts are going to be, why aren’t they fixing those pot holes? Who’s moving in next door?
“Taronga Zoo is a long way from Eastwood. They’re not here,” Mr Kerr says of metro papers. “We are. So, the community newspaper works.”
To read more from Col Kerr, grab a copy of the March edition of The Bulletin or read it online here.