It was the breaking news many readers in streets, shops, and newsagencies across regional Australia today did not want delivered — the loss of the print versions of their favourite local newspapers.
Regional communities are reeling after the announcement that more than 125 News Corp newspapers will be closed or become digital only, and hundreds of jobs will be slashed.
Papers that have been providing a voice for their local communities since the late 1800s are among the long list of publications to be shuttered or moved online.
Queensland’s oldest regional newspaper, The Queensland Times in Ipswich, which started in 1859, will stop printing at the end of June, along with the Rockhampton Morning Bulletin (1860), The Daily Mercury in Mackay (1867), and the Northern Star in Lismore (1876).
They will all become digital-only paid subscription news outlets along with 25 other regional titles and nearly 60 community titles across Australia.
Another 37 newspapers will stop publication in all forms as part of a restructure announced by News Corp Australasia chief executive Michael Miller.
Two hours west of Brisbane, Warwick locals said news their paper was going digital only was “heartbreaking”.
The Warwick Daily News office.(ABC News: Caitlyn Gribbin)
The Warwick Daily News began as a family-owned newspaper in 1919 but will stop printing in late June.
Classic Dimensions owner Robyn Fraser has been advertising in the print version of the paper since she opened her women’s fashion store in the main street 35 years ago.
“I had great support from the paper. It’ll be a tool that we’ll all miss,” Mrs Fraser said.
“The paper’s been thrown out on our kerb every morning at five o’clock and it’s the first thing I do every day, read the local paper.
“It probably sounds like little town talk but you might run into someone and say ‘so and so’s dad passed away’. You read that in the local paper.
“They’re the little things that keep you up with what’s happening and we’re going to really miss that.”
A blow for communities
News Corp said there would “regretfully” be job losses associated with the announcement, but the exact number remained unclear.
A source told the ABC job losses at News Corp would be 500-600, with sales staff, office support, journalists, and workers at print centres all impacted.
Only seven regional mastheads will continue in print and online including the Hobart Mercury, NT News, Cairns Post, Townsville Bulletin, Gold Coast Bulletin, Toowoomba Chronicle, and Geelong Advertiser.
Queensland is the hardest-hit state with about 22 regional and 20 community publications going to digital only, and 15 community newspapers closing completely.
MEAA Queensland regional director Michelle Rae said the announcement was devastating for Queensland.
“Today 110 Queensland journalists have been given redundancy letters,” she said.
“That is a catastrophic amount for a region and also for journalism.
“We’re talking about newspapers that have survived depressions, they’ve survived world wars, and yet they can’t survive COVID-19.”
ABC News Breakfast co-host and Walkley award winning journalist Lisa Millar began her career as a cadet at the Gympie Times in 1988 covering courts, council and everything in between.
“I’m sad for the people I worked with, I’m sad for the newspaper,” she said.
“I loved the sound of it thumping onto the front lawn every morning and wondering if my name was going to be a byline on the front page.”
A sign of the times
In Alice Springs, news that the local 73-year-old Centralian Advocate would be online only from the end of June was met with mixed emotions.
Local resident Carol Adams said she was sad to hear of the change but thought most people would still head online to read it.
“Because everyone either buys the Advocate or checks it out in passing, and if that was the only way you could get it you certainly would just to keep up to date with what’s happening in the town,” she said.
Don Wait said while he would miss picking up the paper, the change was better for the environment.
According to local historian Alex Nelson, the fact that Darwin-based NT News would be the only hard-copy paper for central Australia was not ideal.
“It’s very much oriented towards serving the Top End market, and Alice Springs is going to find itself yet again relegated somewhat down the pecking order of priorities of the Northern Territory,” Mr Nelson said.
“But that’s not a new experience for us.”
Cuts could ‘compromise democracy’
A former editor of the Northern Star in Lismore, northern NSW, and the Gold Coast Bulletin said he feared the history of regional and rural towns would be lost, alongside many jobs and News Corp titles.
The Northern Star and papers in Tweed, Ballina, Byron and Grafton will cease become digital only.
The Lismore Echo and Richmond River Express will close completely.
“Those newsrooms, those journalists, they love their community,” said Dean Gould, editor of the Northern Star from 1998 to 2003.
“They have been part of their community — many of them grew up through that community.
Mr Gould said the cuts could also compromise the role of regional media in democracy.
“The accountability for local government, for even state government, has often been the regional journalism that has brought that to the fore, and that’s going to disappear completely,” he said.
“I’m very concerned that the voice of these communities is going to be lost in any sort of independent way.”
Newsagents hit hard by news
Newsagents, which rely on their local papers for businesses, will also be hard hit.
Today’s Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper at the Eumundi Service Station.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Megan Kinninment)
Sunshine Coast newsagent Leigh Grand said it could mean his shop Cotton Tree News will have to close.
“It’s terrible, caught me by surprise, we always joked when the newspaper goes that would be the end of it,” Mr Grand said.
“It’s devastating, the Daily [Sunshine Coast Daily newspaper] is our second biggest-selling paper, it brings so much foot traffic into our store. It underpins the shop.
“The other part is our home delivery service. Without the Daily that won’t be sustainable.”
Mr Grand said he did not expect the shift to digital newspapers would happen so soon.
“The shop has been here forever and a day and it’s always been a good little business for us,” he said.
“I don’t know where we go from here.”
Sunshine Coast among the cuts
Sunshine Coast mayor Mark Jameison was CEO of APN News and Media in 2006, before News Corp took over the company’s regional mastheads in 2016.
He said News Corp publications in his region, including the Sunshine Coast Daily, had lost touch with their communities.
“It was perhaps unfortunate that News Ltd (now News Corp) were allowed to take over those newspapers at a time when they would have perhaps been better off in the hands of private operators,” he said.
“They may have sustained their longevity by having a much closer empathy with the community they serve.
“I find it hard to understand why the Sunshine Coast Daily, the print edition, would be closed and other smaller markets effectively continue.”
Source: ABC Southern Qld By Caitlyn Gribbin, Marian Faa and staff reporters https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-05-28/news-corp-makes-regional-papers-digital-only/12295408