From June 29, nearly 100 regional newspapers, owned by US citizen and multi-billionaire Rupert Murdoch, will cease print operations.
News Corp announced they will move the (mostly free) titles to behind an online paywall.
Locally this includes the Byron News, the Northern Star, the Ballina Advocate and the Tweed Daily News.
Some communities will now be without a local newspaper for the first time in generations.
A longtime journalist for a local News Corp newspaper, who asked to remain anonymous, said, ‘What happens when a local paper disappears? Whether paid or free, the common thread is lost – communities lose a point of connection for finding out anything; from the most mundane of meetings, to major events such as festivals or sporting results.
‘For a lot of these communities, it’s their paper – they feel as though they own it. It’s okay for them to bag it, but to have someone come in and take it away is a blow’.
Tania Philips is another writer who has seen the publications she works for axed.
‘Big business has been the death of newspapers, and social media has taken the ball, because they had to – you can’t read those micro-stories anymore – it wasn’t appearing – and that’s why people are looking to social media not the other way around,’ Tania said.
Regional News Corp sales departments are also hit. One of the sales reps for a regional paper, who also asked to be anonymous, said the axing came out of the blue.
‘I guess there had been talk here and there that papers were dying and digital subscriptions were the latest, but we absolutely didn’t see this coming’.
Another employee, who wished to also remain anonymous, is a single parent. They said, ‘I felt like my job was secure. I had a car loan, a personal loan and I live alone. It will impact me heavily. I don’t know if I can get another job, or if I have to move in with my mum.’
Politicians only winners from the decision
Both Tania and her colleagues believe that many in the community will struggle with a digital format.
‘The older demographic will definitely struggle without a print version. The biggest winners out of this will be the politicians. If you do a story on a politician and expose them in print, it tends to hang around a lot more. They worry more about what goes in ink on paper’.
They said they worry for journalism’s future when the focus is just on subscriptions.
‘It’s all click-bait. We have been told to go for “listicals”, which for example, is the ten best local coffees… that’s not really journalism.’
The News Corp journo believes there is a space for a community-owned, independent paper. ‘I wouldn’t be surprised is there were a lot of pop ups. But it will be hard to sustain. Metro papers are never going to cover the region’.
There are now only a handful of printed newspapers in regional Australia. The Echo remains one of them.