My Town. I first heard those words when I was in grade 6.
Fosseys, a budget department store that disappeared after a merger with Target in Australia, had a writing competition called, "My Town, I Like It."
My hometown of Glengarry, which now is home to 1,000+ people, had just a few hundred residents when I was growing up in the 1980s. I submitted an article, opening with the tale of Mrs. Beanham, who used to pick up rubbish on her walk around town. She would always chat to people who walked past, and I remember thinking about the pride she must have for our community to collect and dispose of the trash others carelessly left behind.
That little ditty won me a $50 Fosseys voucher, huge stakes for a youngster in the 1980s. It also helped earn me a place at a weekend camp with other avid writers later that same year.
The power of storytelling
Storytelling is the main reason I got into journalism. Sharing someone’s story, usually an intricate tapestry of light and dark moments, is a privilege and an honour. Being invited into one’s home, their life, brings with it a responsibility to record their tale in perpetuity.
My sense of community, linked with storytelling, was a passion from an early age.
But as the editor of a newspaper servicing a large regional area, I decided we were too focused on the city of Mackay.
I wanted to tell more stories from our smaller towns:
- The achievement and the success of our young and old.
- Tales from Betty or John down the street.
- The hard times and the resilience that comes from them.
That’s why we hatched a plan to get out into as many towns in our region as we could on a rotating basis, to find out what’s happening outside of our usual neck of the woods.
And so My Town was born. But of course, our venture could not be entirely altruistic. As a commercial business, I had to be able to justify the plan with the resources I had.
When the Daily Mercury’s My Town series launched in February 2020 to celebrate community, build branding, and increase revenue, few could have foreseen how critical it would be by year’s end after COVID-19 wreaked havoc on our lives and our beloved paper was shut down.
But in becoming a digital-only regional Web site after 154 years in print, we have grown from 42 new digital subscriptions a week in 2019 to 105 a week in 2020.
At the time of our entry in the INMA Global Media Awards, we had 1,000 more subs in FY2021 compared to the same week in FY2020.
We had almost doubled our pageviews to about 430,000 a week and secured a $5,000 sponsorship from Mackay Regional Council.
Driving digital growth
My Town events and library workshops have helped achieve those results. The My Town stories alone generated more than 15,000 pageviews and more than 60 new digital subscriptions. It gave us the chance to tell incredible stories we might not otherwise have been able to, such as one on a pioneering Mackay family who counts the late William the Conqueror and Princess Diana as distant relatives.
And how the green ants in the United Kingdom version of “I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here” were shipped from the Mackay region.
But we were also able to cover important issues we might have missed, such as Eton’s headache over long-term parking in its main street, subdivision issues in Habana, and a milestone reflection on a tragic Kuttabul house fire.
Importantly, it has enabled us to make better contacts with people out of the main city areas and has given us opportunities to gain readers and subscribers, and therefore revenue. It was also about reducing subscription churn, increasing pageviews and reader engagement, and reinforcing the Daily Mercury team’s commitment to Mackay through increased brand awareness.
I have outlawed the word local from our writing because local depends where the person is reading our publication. We make a conscious effort to use the name of smaller towns rather than use the word Mackay as all-encompassing for our city and region.
We also ensure we use the suburbs and town names for people appearing in court and for every social photo we take. We want people to take pride in where they live.
I’m a country girl at heart, and I love helping champion the needs, issues, and milestones of the community and region I live in.