An ill wind that blew some good

The Queensland town of Tully took a battering from Cyclone Yasi, yet the town’s local paper recorded a jump of 7.9 percent in year-on-year sales for the quarter ending March this year.

The Times’ results are a testament to the crucial role newspapers – and especially local newspapers – can play in times of crisis.

In this message to readers, to be published in Thursday’s edition of the Tully Times, editor John Hughes reflects on an extraordinary few months.

The Tully Times achieved a significant increase in sales for the 2011 March quarter.

The Times recorded average sales of 3,145 for each of 12 editions during the quarter. That figure was up by 7.92724 per cent on the corresponding quarter for 2010 of 2,914, which in turn was identical to the figures recorded in 2009.

This year’s figures need a little explanation.

There were 13 editions in the quarter, including the one put out on Wednesday, February 2 as cyclone Yasi tore towards us. Many copies of that special early edition (we usually come out on Thursday), quite literally, ended up being blown away.

Some sales disappeared along with businesses. Some outlets never sent in returns, which are needed to work out the figures required by the Audit Bureau of Circulations. It was amazing that the Times received as many returns as it did, yet they were way out of whack with the expected “normal” figures.

The ABC agreed to offer newspapers impacted by the natural disasters during the quarter (Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria floods; Western Australia fires; and Cyclone Yasi) optional exclusion for certain key dates.

The Times deliberated whether to take up or knock back the ABC offer. Including the February 2 edition would have altered the average downwards by about 100.

That would still have represented an increase on the 2010 quarter and maybe it would be worth keeping the average down this time with a view to the 2012 quarter.

It all sounds a bit devious, but for some time sales for many newspapers have been in decline.

Any increase is a cause for celebration.

In the end the decision was made to exclude the February 2 edition, the main reason being the higher figure now acts as a benchmark for the future.

Trying to keep sales at that level will be difficult. In the editions after Yasi our sales were helped along by the many volunteers and workers who came to help us in our time of need. They won’t be here in 2012.

The fear is that the region’s population has again taken a hit as residents leave to find work, and in some cases in the hope of finding a safer place to live – good luck!

The next indicator about where the Times and the region are going will be the June quarter figures. Until then I will allow myself a quiet little “hooray” for the March quarter figures.

I must admit the last couple of months have placed a strain on me and it has been difficult to juggle all the demands on my time. Almost every edition has been rushed (for me) and I have been quite critical of some editions (yes, editors do have professional pride in their work). At the same time I am proud that the Times staff have done such a first rate job. I am also humbled that new loyal readers have joined old loyal readers in supporting the Times.

Thank you.

The challenge is to keep those sales figures where they are.

John Hughes is editor of the Tully Times.

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