When Rupert Murdoch decided to shut down 112 regional newspapers around Australia he did it in the typical Murdoch fashion. He was not satisfied with the returns from these regional mastheads so rather than sell them off to people who weren’t so concerned about a bottom line but who had a passion for journalism and for their community and who could make them work, he decided to completely shut-down 36 and move 76 behind a digital paywall.
Evidently staff found out through internal rumours and leaks on the Newscorp grapevine and then had their worst fears confirmed when retrenchments were announced, accompanied by the usual bland managerial double-speak.
Executive chairman of News Corp Australasia, Michael Miller, awarded the dreaded DCM (Don’t Come Monday) awards, thanked the departing employees for their “professionalism, dedication and contribution” and spoke in glowing terms of the 112 publications, saying :
“They have provided News with invaluable years of service, Their passionate commitment to the communities in which they live and work and their role in ensuring these have been informed and served by trusted local media has been substantial.”
I know that in my local area there was a general sigh as we contemplated the loss of our valued weekly newspaper, The Tablelander. No longer would we have all that local coverage that turns a disparate region into a community. The happenings at local council meetings, the names and shames of those who got pinged for DUI ; the local footy, golfing and bowls results ; and best of all the rantings in the Letters to the Editor. Not to mention the births, deaths and marriages and the weekly crossword.
They tell us that they can’t make money any longer from these publications, many of which have been around for more that a hundred years and were hoovered up by the Murdoch clan principally from the APN group at a time when Murdoch had decided that he wanted a monopoly of news distribution in this wide brown land. In my own neck of the woods in Far North Queensland we have access to three daily newspapers (Cairns Post, Courier Mail and the Australian) all owned by Newscorp and all, it seems, under direction to adopt a right-wing stance on pretty well everything. At the present time, with a state election looming in October, they are ranting against Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk largely because she has been committed to keeping Queensland free of COVID-19 as far as that is possible : in my local area we are thankful that her efforts have kept us free of this hideous virus with minimal disruption to our daily life. We are also thankful that her policies have kept this virus out of the aboriginal communities of the Cape York and Gulf regions and the Torres Strait islands. A cavalier approach of let it rip as demanded by Newscorp and its television outlet, Sky-after-dark would have been a disaster.
To say that these local newspapers were uneconomical is strange when you consider that most of the advertising revenue is drawn from the local community with no obvious interference from online platforms like Facebook and Google. The ads come from the automobile dealers, the local real estate agents, from the butcher, the grocer, the local traders and retailers, plus trade services and the classifieds. If you can’t turn a quid out of that lot, Rupert, you’re not trying.
In my local area of the Atherton Tablelands (far North Queensland) this media vacuum has thankfully been quickly filled by a pre-existing privately run weekly publication called The Express. Operated by a small but dedicated band of local people this independent, over the counter tabloid has stepped up and assumed the mantle abandoned by Murdoch. The gratifying thing is that the advertisers have followed and quality news content with a local focus has been maintained and enhanced : congratulations to all concerned.
Down the range from me, in Cairns, a similar thing is happening with a new independent weekly tabloid titled Cairns Local News publishing every Friday, with the first issue on September 18.
Clearly there will always be a demand for local stories and local advertising and I would like to think that what has occurred locally is happening elsewhere in Australia and that we are seeing a resurgence of independent regional journalism.
How are things in your neck of the woods ?
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