Adelaide’s main independent news publisher has launched a reinvigorated online daily news service with the help of Crikey proprietor and publisher Eric Beecher. The aim is to take on, or at least provide a vigorously independent alternative to, the local News Limited monopoly.
The relaunched InDaily, published by Solstice Media, will have an editorial staff of about five, has a new editor who knows where the skeletons are buried in Australia’s most outwardly civilised and inwardly murky city, and a slick online presence designed to replicate the “feel” of an iPad app.
It’s a small media industry in Australia, which means, sadly, that most of our capital cities are media monopolies.
And the smallness of the industry also means that if one writes about and works in media, sometimes one’s declarations of interest could make up a small article. Or even a long one. This is one of those occasions. Writing about InDaily means that I’m writing about my boss (Beecher), and one of my close friends, who is the new editor of InDaily.
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It is also the case that I have known about these moves for a while — since mid-year — and have been restrained from writing about them by agreements of confidentiality. Now I’ll just pitch in and tell the story and let the declarations come out in the wash.
Beecher has announced his presence with an article in yesterday’s edition of InDaily, which begins:
Adelaide is, mostly, a charming and civilised city. But there is nothing charming or civilised about the fact that if you live in Adelaide, and want to know about local news, most of that news is controlled, filtered and produced by a single organisation.
He’s talking about News Limited, of course — owner of the Adelaide Advertiser, the Adelaide Sunday Mail and the Messenger suburban newspaper chain.
An old friend of mine and former editor for News Limited and Fairfax Media, Des Ryan, has been appointed the editor of the new Indaily.
InDaily’s new online presence makes the current online offerings from News Limited, Fairfax look more than a bit old tech. It is worth checking out for the technology alone.
Ryan, though, is less hung up on the technology than on the journalism. He is promising original reporting and breaking news. He is also considering experimenting with citizen journalism to help in reviewing Adelaide’s cultural life.
Meanwhile, Solstice’s managing director Paul Hamra says the mission will be to “get under the fabric” of Adelaide, reporting news that is missed by the News Limited publications.
Since its first birthday, The Independent Weekly has also had a free online presence, but the Beecher-Ryan intervention amounts to a relaunch, new investment and a fresh presence.
InDaily will now be written and edited separately to The Independent Weekly. A single edition will be delivered for free to the 30,000 odd subscribers each day at noon — which also happens to be Crikey’s preferred time of publication. I understand some content may be shared between Crikey, Business Spectator and InDaily.
And what of the editor, Des Ryan? He is not nationally known, but it is not possible to sit in an Adelaide restaurant with Ryan without him bumping into someone he knows, and usually someone he has offended with his journalism. Adelaide is a small town. Ryan is one of the prominent fixtures.
He was a longstanding editor in chief of Messenger Newspapers, Adelaide’s News Limited-owned chain of suburban newspapers. Messenger, it should be said, has a strong news focus and investigative ethos, often breaking stories that have eluded the Advertiser.
Ryan is also the co-author of It’s Grossly Improper, a book about the Dunstan government that is widely believed to have played a role in the South Australian Premier’s decision to resign in 1979.
Since leaving Messenger in 2004, Ryan has edited the Rural Press/Fairfax Media publications the Burnie Advocate and the Sunday Canberra Times. He returned to Adelaide in 2007 and has been freelancing since then. Interestingly, his partner is Megan Lloyd, editor of the News Limited Sunday Mail.
The owners of Solstice Media are hardly minting it. The latest annual financial report shows that it made a $576,599 loss last year, down from a $777,064 loss the previous year. There were optimistic statements in the report about growth in advertising — and Hamra claims that the most recent figures show that the loss shrunk to about $50,000 in the most recent financial year, largely due to the growth in Solstice’s custom publishing business, which subsidises the loss-making InDaily and Independent Weekly.
The word on the street is that the people behind Solstice are so sick of the local News Limited Advertiser product that they are prepared to keep on keeping on indefinitely — and indeed, took the initiative in approaching Beecher for help and advice in sprucing up the online presence.
The Independent Weekly will continue as a standalone print publication. The exact relationship between InDaily and Crikey is still being worked out, or in Hamra’s words “evolved” but it seems likely that there will be at least some copy-sharing. Solstice also has an existing arrangement with Fairfax Media, which allows it to reuse content from The Age and Sydney Morning Herald online and in print.
Meanwhile, the advertising business model is novel. There are several partners declared on the site — including the Rundle Mall, Flinders University and a local stockbroking firm — who have signed up for a 12-month contract, and, according to Hamra, will meet regularly with Solstice management to discuss advertising.
One “partner” listed on the site is Francis Wong, who is a candidate for Lord Mayor of Adelaide. Hamra claims, however, that Wong is not actually a partner, but merely a casual advertiser. He claims that the partners will have no say at all on the editorial content . Reporting of Wong’s campaign will be frank and fearless, he says. Worth watching, that one.
The documents on the public record don’t reveal the shareholders in Solstice Media, but the directors — whom Hamra confirms are also shareholders — include prominent Adelaide stockbroker and wine company director Alan Young; Peter Slattery, who is managing partner of law firm Johnson Winter & Slattery; Creagh O’Connor, who is director of “boutique merchant bank” Gryphon Partners, and marketing professional and board member of the Art Gallery of South Australia, Tracey Whiting. Hamra claims there are a total of 100 shareholders, ranging from prominent Adelaide identities to “mums and dads”.
Beecher joined this crew in June. He has been closely involved in advising on the online presence and in hiring Ryan and other staff journalists.
Declarations: I am on retainer to Crikey, which Beecher part-owns. Ryan and Lloyd are personal friends, and I have provided training courses at Messenger Newspapers recently and while Ryan was editor-in-chief.