Murray Bridge News is six months old – here's what we've learned and where we're headed

Managing editor Peri Strathearn gives an update on his plans for the Murraylands' newest news outlet.

The question people most often ask me about Murray Bridge News is: has it been a success?

I believe it has, and we’re still only in phase one.

Between a Walkley Foundation mentorship, new regular features and new distribution channels – more on those below – there’s plenty more to come.

But first, let’s review.

In April I faced an 11-week layoff from my job at a local newspaper, not knowing whether I’d get Jobkeeper or whether the paper would come back at all, and unsure how my family would make ends meet.

Yet there were still local stories to be told, and I had time on my hands.

Starting my own news business couldn’t be any harder than pumping out all the stories for two newspapers a week by myself, I figured, and it was sure to be more interesting than just sitting around.

Substack.com, a website I’d discovered in January, seemed like the perfect platform.

As to the name “Murray Bridge News”, well, it does what it says on the box.

This website launched on April 23, and people were kind right from the start.

My mailing list had more than 200 names on it by the end of day one.

I added a paid subscription option a fortnight later, and more than 100 people signed up almost straight away.

By the time July rolled around, you folks had convinced me to quit my old job and focus on growing this business full-time.

After all, an independent, online-only news outlet is a first for regional Australia, to my knowledge – and that's exciting.

Hold on, who are you again?

In case we haven’t met before: hi, I’m Peri!

That’s me up the top, with my wife Keren and our girls Audrey and Daisy.

I grew up in the Barossa and have lived in all sorts of places, but we’re now well settled in Murray Bridge – we love it here and we don’t plan on leaving.

I’ve been in journalism since 2008, starting on community radio in Adelaide but moving on to print in Port Pirie, then here in Murray Bridge.

But you don't work for the paper any more?

Not any more.

For the sake of its 85-year history, I'm glad to see that Murray Bridge’s newspaper will go on without me – I expect government funding will help prop it up for a little while, anyway.

I hope having some competition will keep its owners on their toes.

But I wouldn’t have struck out on my own if I didn’t believe Murray Bridge News was capable of providing a service of the highest quality for local audiences.

That means breaking stories, exploring them in greater depth, helping you understand issues that affect you, and highlighting the local people who make our community such a brilliant one.

I believe I can respond to your needs in ways a national company cannot, and 100 per cent of my profits stay right here in Murray Bridge.

How does Murray Bridge News make money, then?

A majority of our revenue comes from the 400-plus people who have signed up to be paying subscribers so far.

If everyone puts in $5 a month, it starts to add up.

Businesses can also advertise in Murray Bridge News’ weekly email newsletter, which goes out to more than 1200 readers each week; display ads start at $25 plus 5c per reader, and sponsored stories at $125 plus 5c per reader.

If you’d like to know more, you can read our prospectus here.

Please feel free to give me a call or send me an email.

So you write stories for the website and put out an email newsletter – is that enough?

It has been a good start, but as I said at the top: this is only phase one.

The reason I try to get to as many events and meetings as I can, in person, each week is that I believe it is important for a community news outlet to have a real-world presence.

Many of you have asked whether I would consider putting out a printed product, to make the stories I write more accessible to people who are not so internet-savvy.

Had the local newspaper gone under, I would have looked to become active in that space more quickly.

Regardless, I believe a niche may exist for a certain kind of printed publication in the Murraylands.

I have had conversations on this topic, as well as on more innovative avenues for expansion which I hope to progress in 2021.

Coming soon to Murray Bridge News

I expect that the Walkley Foundation – which announced this week it would support Murray Bridge News’ growth by providing me a mentor over the next 12 months – will help me develop and implement some of my ideas.

I’ll have more on that in due time.

You’ll also find more regular content on the site in the near future.

I want to make it my mission each week to tell a story from one of the 120-plus community groups and 70-odd sporting clubs in Murray Bridge and surrounds, to promote the benefits of getting involved in the community, volunteering and being active.

Click here for the list of organisations I have in my sights at this stage – please let me know if I’ve missed anyone.

I also hope to feature regular stories from the city’s service clubs; and we pick up Kevin Schrapel’s weekly Christian insight column, Life Through the Lens, this week, too.

In the longer term, it is my aspiration to build a team, open an office and firmly establish Murray Bridge News as a permanent part of the landscape here in the Murraylands.

If you might be interested in contributing to that effort, or you have an idea worth bouncing around, I’d love to hear from you.

But before you go...

I had hoped to host a thank-you event to show my gratitude to all the subscribers and advertisers who have helped Murray Bridge News through its childhood this year.

Unfortunately, COVID restrictions have made that a bit impractical – we’ll try again for the first anniversary.

But if you’ll indulge me, I’d like to single out a few parties.

Thank you to the organisations which have supported Murray Bridge News with advertising over the past six months – I hope we have helped you in turn.

Thank you to everyone who has sent in a story or a photo for Murray Bridge News to share.

Thank you to my family – Keren and the girls – for being patient and supportive as I find ways to make a better financial return on the time I’m spending on this little enterprise.

But thank you, most of all, to you, my readers: for your subscriptions, your tip-offs, your kind feedback, your suggestions, your understanding, for following along and for making our community such a brilliant place to write about.

I couldn’t do it without you.

Onwards and upwards!

Photo: Jennings Media.

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