The big world of media rolls on and on with a fresh outrage every minute. And so we forget the small signs of optimism.

I spent last weekend in Castlemaine, because I had been invited to speak at the first birthday of a web-based local news service, the Castlemaine Independent. Have a look at the main story on the site right now. You’ll get an idea of the vigor, not to mention courage of the publication. Have a look, too, at this past story, and this one, and you will see that this little independent website is chasing news that bigger organisations should be interested in.

Where is The Age, or the Herald Sun, when it comes to rural Victoria these days?

Which is kind of the point. Those who are up with new media developments will recognise the phenomenon of which the CI is part. It’s called hyperlocal journalism, where a community or community member begins a website that aims to be intensely connected with a small, local audience. The sort of audience that Big Media cannot afford to satisfy. In this model, the measure of success is not mass audience, but intensity of connection with audience. Hyperlocal journalism is big news in the US. See here for information and examples.

But we have few examples in Australia.

The CI, which as my opening paragraph made clear, is now one year old, is the brainchild of journalist Andrew McKenna, previously an employee of the less-than-startlingly good local newspaper in Castlemaine. He began to think more should be possible with local journalism. And Castlemaine is certainly an interesting town.

Its high quality local festival begins in a few days. It is strung between “tree changers” from the big city and long-standing local residents. It is a tourist town, yet more than that, with manufacturing industry and of course the jail.

It is possible to buy a T-shirt in the main street that declares one to be a “latte swilling blow-in”. (I didn’t buy, but reader, I was tempted.)

Anyway, the first birthday party was held in the Theatre Royale. There was excellent chocolate cake, red wine and good company.

The CI is local, of course, but it assumes its readership is interested in more than the parish pump. You’ll find stories and links that take in world affairs, and topics of broad interest. It is thinking global, yet acting local.

The site, as you will see, is attracting advertising. McKenna is still working his fingers to the bone keeping it all together as well as working elsewhere to pay the bills. Yet it seems clear that the CI is here to stay.

Many happy returns.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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