Less than a week after the two major NewsCorp-owned outlets on the Northern Rivers lost their websites and redirected readers via The Daily Telegraph (TDT), sister publications in Queensland announced almost the opposite.
Mackay’s Daily Mercury (DM) and the Sunshine Coast Daily (SCD) plan to reappear in curated weekly print come August, DM editor Rae Wilson confirmed on Monday.
Both papers were part of the same group of regional newspapers NewsCorp bought in 2016 that included The Northern Star, based near Lismore, and Tweed Daily News, as well as several other Northern Rivers’ weekly and bi-weekly papers.
The controversial media merger required permission from the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, which had earlier expressed concern the deal could lessen news competition.
Old ACCC fears of metro consumption of regional news realised
Ultimately, the ACCC found in favour of the NewsCorp expansion, even though it meant two regional collections of newspapers the company now owned in Queensland overlapped in some areas.
The ACCC seemed more concerned with a potential regional versus metro conflict at NewsCorp.
Australian Regional Media’s paid daily regional papers, which included those on the Northern Rivers, focused mostly on regional and local news and there was little overlap with The Courier Mail (CM) which focused on greater-Brisbane, state, and national news, the ACCC said when explaining its approval of NewsCorp’s takeover.
Earlier this month, NewsCorp ditched separate websites for the former ARM publications, redirecting readers to regional news via CM in Brisbane and TDT in Sydney.
NewsCorp’s idea of regional news commitment: stop printing
The commission also said consumer and advertiser research showed newspaper sales were declining in general as readers went online.
NewsCorp executive chairman Michael Miller spoke at the time of the company’s commitment to regional news, saying Newscorp invested in local communities and provided ‘leadership and connection to the issues that matter’.
But company execs decided to stop printing the former ARM papers in June last year, forcing anyone wanting to access local regional news outside the ABC and a handful of smaller independent non-daily print outlets like The Echo to take out paid online subscriptions.
The move effectively stopped readers from the ability to ‘pick up a paper from the shops’ and thereby engage intermittently with local news, let alone catch up on news older than a day via a weekend paper at the kitchen table instead of having to trawl through web pages on a computer device.
Local government representatives such as Tweed Mayor Chris Cherry also spoke of the significance of print for communicating with older people, who make up a large demographic cohort in many regional areas including the Tweed Shire.
daily ‘mouse clicks’ to drive weekly print news content
Late last week DM’s editor wrote to subscribers saying she had ‘some great news to share’.
‘The Daily Mercury’s beloved print edition will be revived in a weekly publication that brings you the news of the week in that tactile manner so many of you love,’ Ms Wilson wrote, adding that the resumption of print, albeit in a smaller-scale form, was made possible through subscribers’ continued support of the publication’s journalism.
Ms Wilson said NewsCorp was launching a regional print resumption trial in August.
A new DM weekly printed edition would be published at a local NewsCorp owned printing press in Mackay on Fridays and available to buy around the Mackay region, Ms Wilson said.
‘It will carry the best of our local stories told throughout the week,’ the editor wrote, ‘what’s happening in our courts, our council, business openings and closures, sport, and your community stories filled with heart’.
Ms Wilson said the selection of news stories would be made based on daily ‘mouse clicks’ and speaking to The Echo later, said it was too early to elaborate on the curation process.
She said the decision to return to print had been made in response to calls from readers and advertisers but couldn’t confirm how long NewsCorp would continue the trial.
Her email to subscribers said DM would continue to be a ‘digital-first news outlet’ operating in the 24-hour news cycle.
It also promised to feature an eight-page TV guide and puzzles in the former daily’s new weekend print edition.
Former long-time journalist at The Northern Star and Tweed Daily News, Aisling Brennan, announced her shift from Northern Rivers’ news to regional news in Queensland via the Sunshine Coast Daily on Monday through social media, with reference to the anticipated weekly print edition.