Publication Profile: Manly Observer
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Publication Profile: Manly Observer

Answers submitted by Kim Smee, Editor of the Manly Observer.

Tell us about Manly Observer. How was it founded?
Manly Observer was founded in 2020 to provide no-nonsense, frank, fair, and free local news at a time of deep confusion and fear in the community. COVID was arriving at our shores and new laws were coming into effect. At the exact same time, our much-loved 100-year-old local paper stopped printing and went behind a paywall.

Initially, it was my intention to just post basic need-to-know information from an Instagram account as a side project / community service - COVID rules, council updates, community call-outs etc. Its popularity grew well beyond what I had anticipated, and the website was created in December 2020 due to huge community demand. My work was completely funded by community contributions until it became so popular it made commercial sense for local businesses to advertise on the website and socials. I still have local press patrons, but local advertisers cover costs and invest in our longevity. 

Manly Observer is now the main source of local news for the Northern Beaches, reaching its five millionth website impression this month. We have 40,000 followers on Instagram and the same on Facebook, and that reach can stretch to the millions in a single month. I have two contributors and an office space at North Head.
 
What role does Manly Observer play in the local community?
Manly Observer, often referred to as MO, has become a huge connecting force on the Northern Beaches. It’s quite varied in that its role is regular news distribution through the website and social posts, but I provide live updates and connect people in need during times of crisis too, including the 2022 floods, freak storms and during lockdowns when people needed simple support like COVID tests for a shelter or even a dinner for a single parent family in isolation. Our work can range from covering a council meeting to providing evacuation information alerts across social media.

I recall jumping on Instagram live in my pyjamas for an emerging police situation in 2021, and have been on camera half-asleep with messy hair and sometimes even breastfeeding a newborn. This wasn’t really the direction I saw my journalism career going back in the day, but it gets the job done and readers seem to appreciate the lack of BS.

I get recognised in the street quite a lot, which has been a bit unusual for someone who always opted for non-TV and low-profile roles, but thankfully the interactions are always positive and people shout me coffees quite regularly. It probably helps that I look perpetually tired. Because I am!
 
Do you have any advice for young professionals considering a career in journalism?
Just start writing - don’t ask permission to cover a story you think is worth covering. Just write it, check it, edit it until you are sick of looking at it then pitch it to whoever has the audience it would suit. It will either get snapped up or you will get valuable experience, or both. Also, learn to be economical with your sentences. If you don’t know how to start a story, write it the way you’d summarise it to a mate. Clean it up after.

I would also suggest you diversify your experience. Writing experience and interviewing people (face-to-face particularly) is valuable, but so is working in other communications roles and studying other subjects beyond English. I did an honours degree in politics and a Bachelor of Media two decades ago now and worked as a newspaper editor at a young age, but I understood how society fit together through many other roles, including working as a media advisor for justice in Western Australia for several years.

I learnt more about grammar teaching English in Italy than I did at school. I learnt the ability to summarise large volumes of information very quickly working as a radio producer. Just keep learning.

What are the most memorable stories you have covered?
At this point in my life, I can barely remember what I had for breakfast. 

What does the future of your publication look like? Any exciting projects you are working on?
Manly Observer is in a great place as it is, my energy has instead been on supporting others and seeing what I might learn from others in the industry. I do this by working with the newly formed Local Independent News Association (LINA) so that quality hyperlocal journalism continues to grow and connect communities the country - and world - over.

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