The publisher of Cape York Weekly said it was the people who made the choice for him.
“When the previous paper closed down, I had phone calls every week from locals wanting a new one to start up,” Mr Nicholls said.
“I knew there was enough news and appetite for a paper, I just had to get the business support.”
It turned out that the business community was just as keen for a locally produced publication, providing it wasn’t overpriced.
“That was the key to making it work – not being too expensive. We had to find advertising rates that provided value for money.
“What they liked about Cape York Weekly is that it was a free publication. Everyone in the communities could grab a copy, plus it was available to read online, meaning anyone in the world could read the paper.
“For some reason, the overwhelming view of the public is that they don’t want to pay for news in this current era. You have to accommodate for that.”
Moving back up to Weipa to get the paper off the ground was the biggest challenge. Mr Nicholls left his partner back in Cairns so she could continue her work as a doctor at Cairns Hospital.
“I love Weipa and I love the people of Cape York. But I did four years here from 2014 to 2017 and it was a big decision to leave Cairns behind. It has become my home,” he said.
“The consolation is that there are daily flights between Weipa and Cairns. There is also a good reason to be in Cairns for work, considering our politicians, health service and major services operate out of the city.
“It’s one of the reasons we’ve had great advertiser support from Cairns businesses. They understand that Cape York people come to Cairns all the time to spend money and buy things that simply are not accessible up here.
“You can’t buy a car in the Cape; you can’t get a lot of furniture and electrical goods. Cairns is our capital city.”
Support far and wide
While the Cape York Weekly is still in its infancy, Mr Nicholls has been fielding phone calls and emails from around Queensland.
“I have become a bit of a consultant to communities that have lost their newspapers,” he said.
“In the midst of COVID-19, News Corp and some other companies were quick to close their struggling mastheads.
“In the Far North we saw the loss of the Port Douglas-Mossman Gazette, the Tablelander and the Innisfail Advocate – three papers that had been serving their communities.
“The good news is that newspapers are still viable in 2020, providing you don’t expect them to be a cash cow.”
Mr Nicholls said that there were a few key ingredients you needed to make a successful community paper.
“It needs to have local journalism, it needs to be positive-minded and it needs to be free,” he said.
“Too many publications are filled with negative stories. You can get away with that in Brisbane and Melbourne, but in local communities they want to hear about good news stories.
“The big mistake that major news companies make is having too many staff and a walk-in office.
“Those days are over. I can put the whole newspaper together every week from home. I’m out and about during the day and I’m writing the stories in the afternoon.
“Office space is the biggest waste of money because you end up relying on people coming to you, rather than getting out and about. That’s how you see what’s going on.”