BY RITA BRATOVICH
The ink has barely dried on the last ever edition of Central Sydney and its absence is being felt already.
The local newspaper has served the nexus community for around 15 years, establishing itself, at least in its early days, as a media organ of integrity and a true mouthpiece of the people.
After it was pulled into the cluttered orbit around Murdoch several years ago, the paper lost much of its feisty independence, yielding to the generic banality required to satisfy commercially driven KPIs.
The “bottom line” determined the existence or not of a newspaper, and nothing else.
“Big companies are making their decisions based on profits only,” agrees City of Sydney Councillor Angela Vithoulkas.
“It’s very sad, very sad. It’s very hard for local issues to get heard because they often aren’t perceived to be relevant to a bigger publication,” says Ms Vithoulkas.
“There is an audience that reads print publications but doesn’t read online, so there’s nothing to serve that audience now,” says Ms Vithoulkas, the founder of the Small Business Party and an Independent Councillor who has been on the front cover of Central Sydney several times.
Pam Walker co-founded Central Sydney with Nick Olle and was its original editor in 2004.
Walker and Olle shared a high journalistic standard that won the paper “Best Free Non-Daily Publication in the Pacific Region” in its first year. It was their coverage of the Redfern Riots sparked by the death of indigenous teen, Thomas “TJ” Hickey, that established trust and respect for the paper.
“It was a real newspaper, then,” says Ms Walker. “I remember taking Nick with me to ‘The Block’ at Redfern and we went to all the organisations and gave them a [business] card and said, ‘This is your local paper. If you have an issue call us’.”
Ugly truths exposed by Central
A spokesperson for The Block did call. He agreed to talk as long as the paper told the truth.
“And we’ve got some ugly truths here,” he said.
Some of those truths included drug abuse, theft and paedophelia.
Central reported faithfully and consistently on issues within the local Indigenous community, often being given exclusive access.
When it came to editorial purity, Walker was stalwart. During the 2004 federal election, she noticed a layout that included advertorial around the election stories.
“I threw a tantrum and I said there’s no way! They’re ads. You can put them in the back with the lifestyle stuff. I’m not having them anywhere near my election coverage,” she recalls.
The Media Watch program later shamed newspapers that had printed paid political advertorial. “Basically, Central dodged a bullet because I threw a tantrum,” laughs Walker.
She fondly remembers some of the photographers who had worked with Central. One was covering a new business opening in Redfern at which Uncle Max Eulo was performing a smoking ceremony.
In an opportune moment, the photographer captured a gorgeous portrait of Uncle Max holding a white baby that belonged to friends. It became the Harmony Day cover photo for Central and has been described as one of the best Harmony Day images ever captured.
Walker says she really enjoyed the initial years as editor of Central before departing to become press secretary for Clover Moore.
In 2016, she found herself at News Limited (now News Corp) and was able to sneak a peek at what the new management was doing with Central. She immediately knew its days were numbered:
Central Sydney published its last print edition on 17 April 2019.