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The Manning Community News is needed more than ever.

Fearless journalism is becoming an endangered species. The furore over our ABC attests to that. 

But our fourth estate has been under threat, eroded and marginalised for some time, given the march of online news feeds, social media and new delivery platforms of “instant news.” Let alone the rise of Trumpisms and his “fake news”. 

Thoughtful, in depth, considered reporting by serious publications, has become a niche market, but a valuable one, if, however, generally only sought out and read by serious news junkies.

But there is a corner of the media market that is still considered popular, valuable and necessary, and that is local community news. 

Fairfax Papers Doomed 

The print media landscape has always been dominated by mass market owners, News Limited, Fairfax and assorted national and local mini media empires. Small papers that exist as essentially throw away advertising vehicles, carry little local news, but flog everything from real estate to car sales and classifieds, with no opportunity to read hard local news, which has generally been left to regional TV and radio outlets. However, given the marriage between Fairfax and Nine Entertainment, Fairfax exists no longer, so many of their local unproductive papers are potentially doomed. 

Not all local stories get much of a run from limited outlets. Certainly there is little time or talent available to research, dig and report on local issues in depth.

Until we came along. 

While we call ourselves the Manning Community News, we cover news throughout the MidCoast Council electorate and beyond and feature articles of international and national concern. 

In the three and a half years we have been publishing this free monthly newspaper, our circulation of six thousand print copies (and rising. With help we could double that) is distributed from Bellingen to Great Lakes and inland and to coastal townships in between. 

The online edition has a following all over the country, and is regularly mentioned and quoted by the likes of Alan Jones, Phillip Adams and Macca, and countless fans in the media who recognise and respect what we are doing.

Why We Began

This paper was begun as a result of the disillusionment over the local media coverage, or lack of, in dealing with some of the shennagians of the previous Council – specifically the fight over Transgrid who wished to put millions of dollars worth of quite unnecessary (as we proved) power lines throughout our countryside. The bias and kowtowing to powerbrokers and Council in our local media over Transgrid, and later during the next Council election, was, to me, as a trained and qualified senior journalist, pretty horrifying.  I had recently moved back to the Manning Valley after an international career in print, radio and TV journalism to continue publishing novels. 

I remember as a small girl, my grandfather Jack Revitt, taking me into the Wingham Chronicle to sit quietly as he chatted to Mr Fitzpatrick, the esteemed editor for so many years. My grandfather passed on articles and letters from my Uncle Jim Revitt who was working as a reporter in Canada then as an ABC radio/TV foreign correspondent during the Vietnam war. Jim’s letters kept the locals  informed of world events and quirky behind-the-news stories. Jim later worked on ABC-TV “Weekend Magazine”, started the cadet training program (discovering talent like Stan Grant, Aaron Pederson, Barbara McCarthy – now Senator Malarndirri). It was Jim who told me before I became a novelist, serious journalism would be the best training possible. He was right. He also taught me to stand up for principles and justice, be brave and speak truth to power. 

So I decided to start an independent newspaper. 

I assumed if an independent honest media voice was circulated, it would be supported. After the first couple of monthly issues, I approached local businesses for advertising, as I was paying for all costs myself. But I was fobbed off until several businesses, secretly and behind hands, confessed that, much as they liked what I was doing, they’d been threatened that if they advertised with me, their businesses would suffer. I interpreted this as a threat from our then Council.

We now have a different and amalgamated Council . . . but guess what? One of the senior leaders of MidCoast Council spends his time hassling and threatening some of the outlets if they distribute and display this free newspaper. 

Certain local “men in power” in some of our large public concerns who don’t like what I write and what this paper stands for, dismiss me at their board meetings and gatherings, as a frivolous lightweight writer of women’s fiction. That I have no substance. They underestimate me and The Manning Community News at their peril! 

Power of the People

Never underestimate the power of the people. This paper has shone a light on secret and corrupt dealings by certain individuals in the public as well as private arena. We like to think that light was bright enough to dim the dubious dealings of the former GM of MidCoast Council. 

We know we ruffle feathers. We tackle stories the local papers do not. We do not put our friends and relatives’ “doings” on the front page with no disclaimer as to who they are nor their connection with the paper. 

We are not dictated to by a national media boss, bullied by the National Party for criticising our National member, (and therefore kowtow to the Nats, scared of losing advertising) or run the same stories seen in all other group newspapers in the company format. 

This paper is no loose cannon. I have been a member of the Australian Journalists’ Association, The Australian Association of Authors and the Australian Writers Guild, for many years. This paper is a member of the Country Press Association and abides by its rules. 

Last year I was awarded the Lloyd O’Neil Prize ( among few Australian women writers to receive this prestigious award) for service to the Australian Book Publishing Industry.

So when a local paper accuses The Manning Community News as being “unscrupulous” in an unsigned anonymous Opinion piece, we are not amused. 

I’ve let the digs and bias in our local press go, along with their promotion and exposure of their friends and family on the front pages, to “interviews” with mates, pass by.

 I value the readership of The Manning Community News. 

Why Do This Paper?

When two women sitting outside a supermarket sharing a copy of The Manning Community News are heard to comment, “Well why does she bother to do this, anyway?” I feel compelled to answer.

Firstly, I care.  I care about honesty, about helping others in our community. That where you live, be it a city or a one horse town, we owe it to each other to look out for one another; Friends, family or strangers. 

I Care

I care about dishonesty; from our politicians, businesses, neighbours or whomever. And I believe in calling it out.

I care about our planet, our country, our town, our street. Recently the neighbours’ dogs chased our resident koalas. That was just as important to me as to take action by walking at the head of thousands of people with Tim Winton to protest to Save Ningaloo Reef. 

I have a public profile, whether I like it or not, that comes with the territory as a popular novelist. 

I do not accept payment to speak up on videos to support organisations such as Greenpeace. I am not paid to, and nor do I, endorse products. I do not charge money to speak at functions, and if there is an automatic payment (like at Writer’s Festivals) I ask that the money be paid to the school I built and support in Myanmar. 

I am not rich, but I am fortunate I inherited my late mum’s home, enabling to me move, “back home”, to the Manning Valley where I was born.

The Manning Community News is published, run and paid for by me, which is a struggle, but I’m told that the idea of caving in now would be a huge disappointment to the community. 

I have always believed that when you get down to the wire, something will turn up. I have been penniless and struggled, and somehow always scraped by as a divorced mother, trying to make ends meet. 

I appreciate the donations to this paper by supportive readers. And the locals who have advertised. However, the cost of publishing this paper, financially, timewise and emotionally, is a large one. 

There is no, “team”, no staff. I am grateful and chuffed at the regular columns supplied by locals – no reprinted circular stuff from sister newspapers here. 

Local Columnists

Rex, with his antiques, Caitlin with the gardening, Jason with the beauty column, James on legal issues, the wise old “Scribe”, Stinker with his fishing column, Neil’s recipes and the book reviewers, are all locals and friends who contribute articles and information. All at no charge. 

I especially thank the decent and concerned local “whistleblowers” who trust me enough to share valuable information, often at great risk to themselves. 

Many thanks too, to the huge team of volunteers who distribute thousands of copies of this paper up and down the coast and countryside into cafés, shops, businesses and services who welcome the paper in their shops, offices and waiting rooms. 

Our Future

We only have to look around us, read thoughtful  newspapers (like The Saturday and The Monthly), watch the national ABC news, or check into talk back radio, to know that this country, and indeed our own backyards and neighbourhoods, are facing troubled times. 

I hear the cry, “But what can I do?” 

Write letters ( don’t just click on email petitions) to our politicians. Though forget our local federal member, who is not required in cabinet anyway, and who has openly said he’s not interested in doing anything locally. Unless you count photo ops. 

Look around for someone sensible, smart and caring in your neighbourhood who might be convinced to run as an independent candidate. We need fresh blood. A whole transfusion! 

Attend Council meetings, see them in action. While we have several good and responsible councilors, that’s not enough. Write to all councilors, attend public meetings. Talk to friends, get involved locally, elections are looming. Be informed. Contact me. 

The bottom Line

If you want to be informed honestly, without bias about local issues, and get the inside story, be entertained and read thoughtful articles, if you want to have a voice through an independent, caring, local conduit. . . here we are. 

You can make a donation and have a print edition of The Manning Community News posted directly to your mailbox.  The online edition will remain free to view at www.manningcommunitynews.com

This paper will still be available at local outlets . . . and if you’d like to throw some around your neighbourhood, let us know! 

I’m prepared to hang in there and keep doing this. If you’re prepared to come along too. 

Thank you. 

Di Morrissey 

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