Local is key for country newspaper success

From the small town of Balaklava in South Australia, a dogged newspaper, The Plains Producer, continues to entertain and inform country folk across the Adelaide Plains – just as it has done since 1903.

Each week, from Snowtown in the north to Virginia in the south, and along the length and breadth of the Clare and Gilbert Valleys, 7,000 readers tuck into a diet of local news and sport. Lots of sport.

Margaret and Roger Manuel were relative newcomers to journalism when they took over the masthead in 1983. The couple had been living in Victor Harbour with their four children, when Roger was offered The Producer, as it was then known, by his employer who was anxious to sell this fading periodical.

112 years old

Since its birth in 1903 as the four page broadsheet The Central Advocate, the little paper has enjoyed several names, becoming The Waroora Producer in 1926 when its first female owner Amy Henstridge reformatted it as a tabloid.

In 1940 ‘Waroora’ was dropped, then The Producer went into hiatus for the duration of World War Two.

Revived in 1946, it bumped along until 1975 when it was purchased by Papers and Publications Ltd, who allowed it to wither on the vine. New owners in 1982 failed to stem its decline, and the scene was set for the Manuels to resuscitate it in 1983.

Roger had one distinct advantage over the previous incumbents – he was born in Balaklava and his parents still lived there. He was for all intents and purposes, a local – the crucial ingredient for a successful rural business.

There were challenges aplenty. The $10,000 price tag was barely within the family’s means; uprooting four children from their desirable Victor Harbour coastal home and landing them in the arid outback town was a jolt; and the insistence from anyone who knew anything about The Producer was to not ‘touch it with a ten foot pole’.

Here is the news

As Margaret Manuel told Media Super member, John Dickson, ‘It’s when your backs are to the wall that you achieve your best.’

Roger immediately changed its name to the one it enjoys today, The Plains Producer, increased its size from 12 to 20 pages, and combed the district for business, deploying his considerable skills as an advertising salesman.

Within a few years circulation had risen, there was sufficient income to support a growing family, and the computer revolution was just over the horizon. Unfortunately, Roger passed away in 1995 on the cusp of the biggest change print-based communications has seen since Gutenberg invented movable type.

Margaret immediately took the helm, and son Andrew, then 19, signed on as photographer, designer and ‘whatever needed to be done’. Andrew supervised the introduction of computer-based production that his father had started, as expensive as it was innovative, and The Plains Producer climbed on to a strong footing.

And the winner is…

It went on to win Best Newspaper awards for circulation under 5,000 in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000 and 2008.

Margaret retired six years ago, handing the reins to Andrew, and a new phase of the family’s paper began. The Plains Producer is also now available as a digital download and news is also syndicated via its Facebook page.

Maintaining a robust country circulation in the face of declining numbers for metropolitan newspapers is no surprise to Andrew.

‘Nobody else covers country issues like rural newspapers do. We have a strong, loyal readership who really appreciate our recognition of their considerable lives,’ he said.

 

Photo supplied by Andrew Manuel.