In small publications, covering a wide remit using scant resources makes it very hard to please everyone. And if your main demographic includes a lot of expats who’ll break out the flat caps at any given opportunity, you know that leaving them displeased is going to mean fielding a lot of angry phonecalls and meandering letters written in longhand. Or so you’d think.
One paper’s attempt to please the traditional audience resulted in an unusual level of online engagement from those same flat caps.
That paper is the Irish Echo, Australia’s Irish expat paper (where I was once deputy editor), which has had to strike a balance between pleasing the traditional audience of Irish ‘lifers’ in Australia and the new audience of transient 20- and 30-somethings in Australia for a good time, but not necessarily a long time. And that’s a tough thing to do – to try and keep happy the community groups as well as the Facebook-and-cocktails brigade.
Particularly in recent times, small publications have to evolve rapidly to cover new media and new behaviour in various demographics. The great fear, from a perspective of retaining your audience, is that you alienate a chunk of the regular readers with any change you make in pursuit of a new and unpredictable chunk of audience. If the chunk lost is greater than the chunk gained, you’re at a net loss, which is probably why small publishers often freeze.
A re-jigging of sections in the paper to mark out the backpacker territory seems to have held its ground, and some intelligently-chosen columns (one on visa issues and the other from a Sydney-based AFL star) provide guaranteed engagement in two key areas of interest. Two blogs provide teasers for the online audience (The Echo online has bravely remained behind a paywall), and has kicked off a Facebook page.
The mix is very evident, though, in the one-off publications that the Echo has made its own.
There’s the annual guide to Irish pubs in Australia, and the Irish Down Under mag for Australia-bound Irish. Both of these are for the pubbers and clubbers, but the latest addition to the stable is their magazine detailing Top 100 Irish Australians, which made national headlines last week.
And that’s the one that’s cause the furore. Trying to boil down Australia’s Irish roots to a strong broth of just 100 people was never going to be an easy task. And everyone, it seems, has an opinion on who should have been in there, which is just how editor Billy Cantwell wanted it (“I’m sure others could come up with another 100 names. If there wasn’t a fight about this, I’d be very disappointed.”)
It’s been a major coup for the Echo – plenty of debate and online engagement is definitely a good thing, and if they can get the auld and young audiences to engage with them online, they’re laughing. Celebrating its 2oth year in print this year; with some further online investment, the Echo could well be around for another 20.