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SUNDAY REVIEW / Councillors reject Mayoral proposal for newspaper

At Tuesday’s Ordinary Council meeting, Item 5.8 on the Agenda was a request for funding by Cape York Weekly to establish a news platform in the Douglas Shire.The recommendation was that Council approves $10,000 towards supporting the Cape York Weekly to commence a community newspaper. Council staff would develop KPI’s for the allocated funding that would focus on strong support for advertising for not-for-profit and community groups in the Shire. The proposal for Council to fund a newspaper comes only after an advancement from Cr Kerr, and no other alternatives were sought.

DOUGLASNEWS.NETWORK

At Tuesday’s Ordinary Council meeting, Item 5.8 on the Agenda was a request for funding by Cape York Weekly to establish a news platform in the Douglas Shire.


SUMMARY

  • Mayor Kerr approached editor of Cape York Weekly, a Torres Strait based community newspaper
  • Council considers approving $10,000 seed funding for new printed community newspaper
  • Council would define KPIs for the operation of the new enterprise
  • Applicant is a non-resident of the Shire seeking funding for office equipment, and a commitment to advertising from Douglas Shire Council to establish new business in the Shire
  • All Councillors, with one exception, deny the recommendation

The recommendation was that Council approves $10,000 towards supporting the Cape York Weekly to commence a community newspaper. Council staff would develop KPI’s for the allocated funding that would focus on strong support for advertising for not-for-profit and community groups in the Shire. The proposal for Council to fund a newspaper comes only after an advancement from the Mayor, Cr Kerr, and no other alternatives were sought.

In response to Cr Kerr’s approach, Cape York Weekly’s written proposal to Council is provided in full below.


At Tuesday’s meeting every Councillor, with the exception of Cr Kerr voted against the recommendation.

Firstly, Cr Scomazzon, expressed her surprise that the proposal actually made it through to the meeting agenda, after the result of previous Council discussions. Cr Scomazzon acknowledged the importance of printed media in the community, particularly for the elderly, and other members of the community with limited access to digital media, but did not support funding the new operation.

Next, Cr Zammataro also expressed his surprise to see the recommendation had made it to the Council meeting agenda. In reference to the proposal for funding to set up an office with camera, computer, and software, Cr Zammataro questioned the professionalism of a media platform that did not already have these essential assets established.

Cr Zammataro referred to the mention in the proposal (below), of support for Cape York Weekly from Rio Tinto, a company with gross assets of $80 billion.  Rio Tinto only committed to advertising with their new local paper, not seed funding, as proposed for the Douglas Shire edition.  Note that Rio Tinto’s budget far exceeds that of the Douglas Shire ratepayers. Cr Zammataro suggested that Council advertising would be an adequate expression of support for the newspaper.

Cr Zammataro supported the idea of printed media in the region, but emphasised that the onus should not be on ratepayers to finance somebody to start such a business. He also flagged community concerns with conflict of interest, of a Council funding a local media platform.

Cr McKeown was happy to offer moral and advertising support for the new enterprise, but like all other Councillors, with the exception of the Mayor, expressed his surprise that Council was asked to fund the operation. He did not agree that Council should donate to a proposed business new to the Shire, and expressed further community concerns with conflict of interest.  

Cr Noli examined Council’s community grants program as a measure of the eligibility of a new business to apply for Council funding.

“I will speak against this recommendation for a number of reasons. Firstly, at Council we have our community grants program, if this were to be applied for through that correct channel, it most likely would not be recommended or supported.  The applicant is not from the Shire, yes he says he will move here, but hey, all applicants could say that and in the past we have rejected projects for not being Shire residents.  The printing is not done here, despite the fact that the Shire does have small printing businesses.  The primary objective is directed at making a profit, which also makes it ineligible. 

“The grants guidelines also say that for Council’s grant funding, an applicant is ineligible if the core business is a political organisation…the recommendation in the body of the Report then goes on to say that Council staff will develop KPIs.  Council cannot dictate what can and cannot be published in independent media for a local paper. It is unheard of and unprecedented that a Council has the ability to dictate KPIs for how a paper is written.”

Cr Abigail Noli, Douglas Shire Council

“Secondly, a business asks for $10,000 and we give it to them because “it is for the benefit of the Shire”.  I think we could have a hundred businesses using the same argument.  Where does this all start and stop?  We have just looked at the revised budget and the modelling shows that we will need a minimum of eight years of a hard slog to get us back to a balanced operating budget, under good circumstances, and then if we don’t have good circumstances then rate rises may have to be substantial over the eight years or longer than eight years.”


One of Cr Noli’s strongest concerns with the recommendation is the issue of probity. Should Council decide to allocate funding to a media platform, there must be an open and transparent tender process.

“The third and last argument relates to probity and essentially what I would think should be a type of tender process should Council decide to allocate any funds towards a media organisation.  The tender process has been omitted and this is in my opinion an error. If Council decides to support a new media outlet, then it must be done through a tender process. Councillors cannot go directly to one individual person, dictate the KPIs for the proposed media outlet, and then hand over ratepayers money.”

Cr Abigail Noli, Douglas Shire Council

“Having a printed media in the Shire is one thing I support, BUT it needs to be way of a public tender –  not going through the proper processes and giving ratepayers money to one individual because one Councillor approached that person, is incorrect and I cannot be in favour of this. In the best interests of probity, I believe that we cannot be in favour of this recommendation.”


In response, Cr Kerr expressed his enthusiasm for the new paper, that he is “very much in support” because he believes the community wants it.

The recommendation was put to the vote. 

“All in favour?”  

No Councillors were in favour.

Except for the Mayor.


Share your views

What do you think about the need for a printed newspaper in the region? Should ratepayers fund start-up businesses from other regions? Should local Councils ever fund media platforms with their defined KPIs? Let us know your thoughts…


Transcript / Cape York Weekly Application to Douglas Shire Council

“Good morning Douglas Shire Council team,

Firstly, I want to thank you for providing me with an opportunity to speak about my passion – community newspapers.

I grew up in regional Victoria and have been reading local papers my whole life. I began writing for my town’s free weekly paper when I was in high school and it has been my profession for all 16 years of my adult life. I’m talking to you because Douglas Shire lost its one and only masthead, the Gazette. Closed during the pandemic. News Corp turned its back on the community when the community needed a strong news platform more than ever. The same thing happened in Cape York/ albeit with a different newspaper owner. The closure of the Cape & Torres News at the end of the March left a major hole in those communities and I felt honoured when the Weipa community, led by Rio Tinto and the local town authority, urged me to return to start up a new publication.

On Monday, September 7, the first edition of Cape York Weekly was printed and distributed in one of the most remote places in Australia. We are now nine editions in and business is strong. There has been a real appetite for a free community newspaper that gives local people a voice and shares their stories. The paper has reached an audience far and wide thanks to our very popular digital edition, infact, that is how I ended up talking to your council.

Mayor Michael Kerr made contact with me, asking for advice as to how Douglas Shire could get a newspaper back in the community. 1 told him immediately that I believed there was an opportunity to create a new masthead specifically for the Douglas Shire communities.

With a focus on positive news/ sport and human-interest stories, there would be no problem filling a newspaper each week. I then travelled to Mossman to meet with two key council staff, Terry Farrelly and Tom Volling.

After a productive conversation which answered questions from both sides of the fence, I walked away confident that this was a feasible project. Since then, I have enjoyed some informal discussions with key businesses in the region. They have also given me confidence that a new paper would be well supported. They key differences between my proposed paper and the Gazette would be:

* Free in print and online

* A focus on positive and community interest stories

* independently owned and operated

For this to happen, it would require the support of Douglas Shire Council. The paper definitely needs to remain independent of the council, but a dedicated advertising budget each year would help make it sustainable and grow.

I would also like to apply for a one-off small business grant to kickstart the operation. Start-up costs include a computer, camera, software and printing. It didn’t take long for Cape York Weekly to become sustainable and prosperous. That was done with the backing of Rio Tinto, which simply just made an annual advertising spend commitment. Knowing there is regular income eased the pressure. I don’t for a second believe that newspapers are money-making machines. However, with the right people and systems in place, they can be highly sustainable. My model is to run a low-cost operation. I don’t believe in having a shop-front office as they can be expensive and inefficient. My philosophy is to be on the ground reporting. When stories need to be written, they can be done from a home office. I do believe we will provide competition to Newsport, however I believe both can operate side by side. I would also be willing to sit at the table and have a conversation/ if they so desired. My publication would not be in the business of daily news. If there were big stories to be broken, we would certainly cover them, but we are not in the business of driving daily traffic to our website. Our bread and butter is the print and digital edition. That’s where our advertisers are and that’s where our attention is focused. Please fee! free to take a look at the Cape York Weekly website and peruse through the digital editions to see how it all works -www.capeyorkweekly.com.au

And remember, a community without a newspaper is a community that gets ignored. Cape York Weekly ran a campaign about the Weipa boat ramp pontoon and within weeks the state government found $3 million to fix the problem. There’s no doubt that Weipa would have missed out on that funding if there was no newspaper.

So, the question is, can Douglas Shire afford to not have a strong media voice?

I look forward to meeting all of you.

Kind regards, Matt Nicholls | Editor/Publisher Cape York Weekly

 0477 450 558

editor@capeyorkweekly.com.au


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