On April 3, 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic descended on Australia, we launched The Wombat Post. Our community newspaper has just turned one!
The Wombat Post was established to provide ‘a village square’ to inform and engage local community members about issues that concern them and projects of interest to them. Our intention has been to be interesting, accurate, fair and constructive.
At the time of our launch, the Daylesford Advocate had stopped doing a print edition (after 140 years!) and was providing more regional news than local community news through a digital platform. Our original intention was to publish a monthly newsletter like those in Trentham, Glenlyon, Creswick, Clunes and many other small, rural communities throughout Victoria. The need to provide local, up-to-date information about events, restrictions and local community support, made more frequent publication necessary. A digital platform developed by local residents, Lorne Gerlach and Juanita Broderick, made it possible to provide a regular, weekly publication and immediate updates as important news came to hand. A sponsorship by the Bendigo Community Bank Daylesford and District, made it possible for us to cover establishment expenses.
Over the past year, we have published over 600 stories, some written by our editorial committee and many others contributed by members of the community. We had a number of regular contributors including Petrus Spronk, Margaret Hodge, Victor Szwed, Taryn Lane, Vanessa Craven, Mary-Faeth Chenery, Marlon Toner-McLachlan, Jenny Hopkins, Brenna Quinlan and Gordon Nightingale and other members of the Daylesford U3A Writers’ Circle, . We received regular media releases from Hepburn Shire Council, the Daylesford Neighbourhood Centre, Central Highlands Rural Health, Hepburn Wind and the local State member, Mary-Anne Thomas.
One of the highlights of the year was a highly successful online forum for Birch Ward candidates for the 2020 local government election. Candidates had an opportunity to present themselves and answer a series of questions at a time when public meet-the-candidates forums were not possible. Over 3000 people watched at least part of the live or video recording of the forum.
Over the year, we have had over 37,000 visitors to our website and almost 90,000 page views. We now have over 500 subscribers who receive a free weekly update in their email with links to the main stories.
Local news publications are increasingly under threat. Early in the COVID-19 lockdown, the major publishers of local and regional newspapers, Australian Community Media and News Corp, suspended print publication. News Corp has announced that over 100 local and regional print papers will disappear. COVID-19 has rapidly accelerated the long-term decline.
The loss of local news is important. Local news services deliver news that is not covered in regional and national news services. It informs the community about what’s happening and provide checks and balances for local government, health and community services, planning and business development.
Local news celebrates community contributions and successes. It helps citizens to engage and participate in the their local community and assists them in making better decisions for a stronger and more resilient community. Credible, authoritative national, regional and local news is one of the underpinning institutions for an effective democracy.
We believe that we are making a contribution to the Daylesford and Hepburn Springs community and we hope for your continued support in years to come.