News Corp announced today that it was shutting almost all of its regional and community newspapers from June 29. The Byron Shire News, Ballina Advocate, Lismore Northern Star and Tweed Daily News will all close and become online publications only, along with a host of other newspapers across the entire country, with ten exceptions.
Advertisers learnt of the impending closures in an email this morning from Jodi Graham, General Manager of Direct Sales. The closures follow a breakdown in talks about the sale of titles with Anthony Catalano, who runs about 160 of the ACM print and digital publications he purchased last year from Nine Entertainment Co (formerly Fairfax publications).
‘It is terribly sad to lose the Advocate. It has been an important glue for the Ballina community,’ said Ballina Shire Councillor Keith Williams this morning, speaking to Echonetdaily.
The loss to the Ballina community was also highlighted by Ballina Shire Councillor Jeff Johnson who told Echonetdaily that ‘The Advocate was full of local news stories and is how lots of people in Ballina source their local news.
‘A large proportion of the population is elderly and are not accessing information online. It is a sad day losing our weekly paper but at least we have got Echonetdaily.’
Tweed Mayor Katie Milne said ‘we’re devastated at the closure of the Tweed Daily News, it will be sorely missed as it has served the community well over the years. When any local newspaper closes down it reduces the services available to the community.
‘At least we still have the Tweed Valley Weekly and Echonetdaily we don’t want to be left with just a Gold Coast newspaper.’
Under severe financial pressure
Regional media owners have been under severe financial pressure in the last few months due to the COVID-19 pandemic as advertisers’ businesses were forced to close, with some businesses experiencing falls in advertising revenue of 30 to 50 per cent.
In recent years, most independent newspapers have closed or been purchased by either Fairfax (now part of Nine Entertainment Co), or Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. The small number of independent newspapers left means that the closures by the biggest player will cause an unprecedented shake-up of the market.
In some cases, newspapers that had been a trusted source of news in their community for over a hundred years have been closed in a cost-cutting exercise. Whilst News Corp say that digital editions of publications will still exist, the closures have raised concerns about equity and accessibility to quality news for a broad audience, and the future of public interest journalism in Australia.
General Manager of Echo Publications, an independent publisher of Echonetdaily and the Byron Shire Echo, Simon Haslam, said that any reduction in the number of trusted news sources had negative consequences for society.
‘A number of people do not consume their news online, they rely on their regional and free community papers’, said Mr Haslam, ‘as those papers report on the issues which are of the greatest importance to each small community.
‘Newspapers play an important role in explaining public policy and matters of local significance, engaging citizens in public debate and informing democratic decision-making.’
Councillor Williams has told Echonetdaily that he looks ‘forward to working with The Echo to expand coverage of Ballina issues’ in the future to ensure a robust coverage of the area continues.