The Scottish editor of Townsville Bulletin set out on a mission to get to know the district her paper is covering. Jenna Cairney met 100 readers in 100 days and wrote a story about each of the people she met.
“You really have to know your community like no other. So moving into a new community from elsewhere – especially with an accent like mine – can sometimes be challenging,” she told Mediaweek. “It’s easy to know the business and political leaders and the movers and shakers in town – Townsville is a close-knit community. However, at times, it’s harder to know the grassroots of the community.
“I wanted to know what the mums and dads, small business owners and other community members cared about and what made them tick.
“Everybody has an interesting story. You just have to spend a few minutes with them. People love sharing their stories and reading about other people.”
Cairney started her journalism career in Dundee, Scotland, at DC Thomson, a major publisher in the UK. She went on to work at The Courier, The Evening Telegraph and The Sunday Post. After that she came to Australia to visit her sister and says she then found herself “unable to leave”.
Initially, Cairney earned a living by picking apples for three months before she landed a gig at Warwick Daily News. “It was Australia’s smallest daily newspaper at the time,” she said. “I went from a big metropolitan market to a tiny town and that was where I found my love for regional reporting.”
Cairney spoke with amusement about the first story she filed at Warwick Daily News, where she covered the council meeting.
“I called it as I saw it,” she remembered. “I saw the mayor falling asleep in his chair and another storming out of the meeting in rage.
“I walked down Palmer Street the next day with a coffee in hand and bumped into the mayor. I copped an earful from him and then the lady at the coffee shop congratulated me.
“Working in the city, I’d never felt that response and the exposure.”
Cairney has been at News Corp’s Townsville Bulletin for nine months. As with other news outlets operated by the publisher, there is a big focus on increasing digital subscriptions at this regional paper.
“We’re still navigating through the online world to make sure that we are giving our digital subscribers the best experience possible,” Cairney said. “We’ve got a good digital uptake and we are growing in that space.”
Townsville has been going through a rough patch for the last five years with the downturn in mining. “The residents believe the city is on the cusp of things turning around… we are not quite there yet,” Cairney said.
In such an environment, is it harder for the Townsville Bulletin to sell digital subscriptions?
“It’s an easier proposition than you’d think. People know the brand,” Cairney said. “We’ve got new reporters and old-timers, who know the city.
“People recognise the power of the newspaper and know that we are there for the community.
“We are fortunate in the sense that North Queenslanders know that we need to stick together to get things done.”