THIS year “CityNews” celebrates its 25th anniversary of providing news, views and information to Canberra.
Started tentatively as a tabloid-sized, weekly paper printed on newsprint in 1993, it suffered initial setbacks in the health of its original owner, before being acquired and renamed the following year as “CityNews”.
Over the following years the paper rode the economic highs and lows of Canberra, necessarily changing its publishing cycle to meet the times and at one point appearing only monthly.
But it prevailed and the decision to change the format to a glossy paper in the early 2000s seemed to anchor the emerging magazine to a weekly presence.
The early editions on file at the “CityNews” office in Mitchell reveal a busy paper with issues of small business prevalent in its editorial columns matched by support through advertising.
There is a steady mix of advertising features from local shopping centres and a gutsy editorial voice that bemoaned the collapsing circulation of the “Canberra Times”, thundered that Chief Minister Kate Carnell had to go and featured a mysterious, un-bylined column of political mischief called “The Whip”.
The paper clearly moved forward with technology and, after a change in ownership to Macquarie Publishing, in the mid-2000s settled into a consistent typography and editorial style, with a strong creative emphasis on producing interesting and inspiring covers. Columns were introduced, the arts coverage boosted and the daily news moved to the website, citynews.com.au
“When I took over editorial control in 2005, the paper was a bit rough and ready,” says editor and owner Ian Meikle, himself the former editor of “The Advertiser” in Adelaide and “The Australian” in Sydney.
“But the joy in crafting the editorial voice though news, informed commentary, great photos, super arts coverage and beautiful social photos was the supportive reception from our readers.
“My objective was to provide a ‘paid paper’ experience in a free magazine by raising the writing and presentation standards to rival the daily paper. The more we did it, the better the response from our readers. And remember, our readers are articulate and affluent people who keep us on our toes.”
The paper’s biggest story went around the world and was picked up by the BBC, CNN, London and American newspapers and “Time” magazine.
“It was astonishing,” says Meikle. “It was the June 11, 2015, edition in which our occasional religious columnist Nick Jensen announced that if the same-sex legislation was passed in Federal parliament he and his wife would divorce.
“I knew it would get national attention, but nothing prepared me for the social media firestorm that came from it. We were pilloried for doing our job and Nick was assailed for having a belief.
“Would I run it again? Absolutely! While I didn’t agree with Nick’s stand, as a journalist, I would defend his right to say it to my last breath.
“Anyway, not a bad job for a little, local rag from Canberra!”
Greg Jones is the paper’s long-standing CEO and a former advertising sales specialist, who being a salesman at heart, is always optimistic about the future of print.
“Basically it’s still relevant because there’s still a lot of people out there who read print despite what people say about ‘print dying’,” he says.
“Print appeals to a lot of advertisers because they’re still print-orientated themselves, so they respond to the fact that a lot of people still read it.
“Based on research, print is still a relevant area for people to not only source their news but also as a way of sourcing new customers and informing current customers.
“We have the capacity and reach to meet customers, who don’t even know they’re a customer.”
Overall, Greg says it’s about informing a potential customer in a way that they can learn much about what the product is, which print advertising, according to research, is better at doing compared to advertising on radio and television.