Journalists are always a gloomy lot, and the present state of the media industry tends to add to that, which can obscure the immense energy and opportunity of the internet age, with its transformation of the tired old business of publishing and distribution.

Tapping into that energy is the reason for this Monday series on start-up media enterprises. We kicked it off last week with a look at the hyperlocal turned national magazine The Kings Tribune. This week, we look at an online-only women’s magazine that, coming up to its sixth month of operation, has turned a small profit, employs two journalists, pays contributors and has 45,000 unique browsers a month.

It’s The Hoopla, the brainchild of well-known comedian and journalist Wendy Harmer and marketer Jane Waterhouse, who is also the founder of Sister Communications which advises companies that want to engage women.

The idea arose, Harmer tells Crikey, because mature women are barely catered for by commercial AM radio, and are ignored by most blokey online magazine sites. Harmer sees the site picking up where Mia Freedman’s successful Mamamia leaves off.

The focus is women of mature years — 35-plus — and the motto is “stay in the loop”. It’s a blend of commentary, entertainment and information with a strong community focus. An AAP news feed on the home page is meant, says Harmer, to allow women to make this their homepage, and thus stay up-to-date.

“We don’t do beauty or fashion,” she says. “We speak to the person as a woman first, rather than as a wife or daughter.”

Writers include Angela Catterns, Corinne Grant and Leslie Cannold. There is a section where readers can tell their own story.

Today, the site features an article on why female television presenters keep quiet about gender inequality (allegedly for fear of being labelled ball breakers), Harmer on cures for internet addiction in teenage boys, and a personal piece by editor Caroline Roessler in which she “comes out” about her same s-x relationship and her desire to marry her partner of 20 years, Donna Reeves. She writes:

“We didn’t have a textbook romance. It wasn’t easy. There was all the pain and guilt associated with breaking up one relationship to forge another. But there was also a longing so great, so intense, the thought of not being together was unimaginable … I realised how much I want to marry this wonderful woman with whom I have spent so much of my life. That we have every right to do this. That we have worked incredibly hard, sometimes against the odds, to build our life together. That we should not be denied this basic human right … Now I’m 50 and I can’t get married. And that’s just wrong.”

The Hoopla’s content is updated daily. The overall impression is of a cross between a lifestyle and news magazine, with an intelligent feminist vibe.

So how is it going? Is it sustainable? Harmer says: “Well you know what it’s like doing a start-up. It’s relentless, and we all look like we need a really long lie down.”

But having been founded in July this year, the site is already enjoying modest success. Harmer and Waterhouse have yet to pay themselves a salary, but they have made back their original investment, and are showing a modest profit.

The Hoopla, though, like most magazines, has some flexible boundaries between editorial and advertising. Harmer has been involved in promotions for Stockland, which runs ads on the site. There is also a partnership with Wellbeing Magazine, and there have been promotions for Yellowtail wines.

So what about editorial independence? Harmer acknowledges that there have been “creative tensions” between she and Waterhouse about where the boundaries lie. “I have had the stoush, but we now know where the line comes,” she says.

The Hoopla is not alone in these arrangements, of course. Most print magazines have them, and Mamamia has regular promotions, including for Accor Hotels.

The Hoopla has run more than 600 articles since the site began. New material is posted daily. Contributors are paid on a sliding scale, from nothing to up to $200 a piece.

There are two employees — Donna Kilby and Caroline Roessler (formerly editor of Notebook magazine). Kilby manages the strong social media presence and Roessler edits from her “tree change” home in the Barossa Valley.

What of the future? There are, Harmer acknowledges, a few “800 pound gorillas” approaching the space they have staked out. Fairfax has announced the launch of the “Womens Network”, a “portfolio of brands with diverse female audiences”. The Huffington Post — which has a strong female section — also plans to launch in Australia.

But in the meantime, Harmer says she is having the time of her life after a long career in media. The women in The Hoopla network are, she says “older, wiser, more relaxed and funny. I love tapping in to our audience.”

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey