News axes regional papers in digital drive
Publishing giant News Corp is stopping the presses for the majority of its regional and community titles, with 76 moving online, and several dozen folding completely, as it takes the strategic decision to pivot into a digital media business.
Some of the bigger regional papers will continue in print for the time being. News also remains committed to printing its metro titles and is currently building a new greenfield Melbourne print centre.
The future of News Corp's regional print sites is uncertain. They include the Yandina Centre (Sunshine Coast) with its relatively new KBA, and the Townsville Print Centre. Rival ACM has itself mothballed four print plants as it suspended printing of 160 community titles in early April. News is the dominant newspaper printer in much of Queensland and NSW.
Around 800 of the 1200 journalism roles will be lost through the closures. In one bright spot, three suspended community titles – Wentworth Courier, Mosman Daily and North Shore Times – will resume print editions. Several major regional titles will continue to print, including The Hobart Mercury, NT News, Cairns Post, Townsville Bulletin, Gold Coast Bulletin, Toowoomba Chronicle and Geelong Advertiser.
The smaller papers have fallen victim to a collapse in advertising revenue, with real estate in particular now almost all online. News owns realestate.com.au, the biggest real estate site in the country. Across the News Australia newspaper business, revenue slumped by 14 per cent in the March quarter compared to the previous year, and that was before Covid really kicked in. The June quarter figures are sure to be a horror show.
Michael Miller, executive chairman of News Corp Australia said, "Covid-19 has impacted the sustainability of community and regional publishing. Print advertising spending which contributes the majority of our revenues has accelerated its decline."
The decision by News comes as talks between News and ACM, the former Fairfax regional and community publisher, broke down. ACM itself has suspended printing of 160 newspapers from its portfolio of 170 it bought form Nine last year for $125m.
News has had Deloitte in for the past three weeks to advise on the way forward. That advice seems clear: stop printing. News has been printing regional and community papers for decades. In the 1960s Rupert Murdoch was a regular on the subs bench at the Parramatta Advertiser.
News bolstered its portfolio when it paid $36m to buy the APN community paper portfolio four years ago. At the time it was seen as a bargain price, although there was division in the upper echelons of News at the time, with some big hitters branding it a mistake. Only the Toowoomba Chonicle from that stable will now be printed.
The axing of more than a hundred printed News community titles, and the unlikely reappearance of the ACM printed newspapers, marks the end of an era for Australian regional and community newspapers. The first regional title, the Derwent Star, was printed two centuries ago in 1810, seven years after the first metro paper Sydney Gazette, since then regional and community titles have been at the core of Australian life. However the smartphone introduced a decade ago has forever changed the media landscape. Revenues were in long term decline, Covid merely hastened the arrival of the grim reaper.
A total of 76 News Corp papers will become digital only, which will give the company 92 online titles with the 16 it already has.
A few dozen small papers will disappear completely, including Queensland’s Buderim Chronicle, Caloundra Weekly, Capricorn Coast Mirror, Coolum News, Nambour Weekly, Ipswich Advertiser, Kawana/Maroochy Weekly, Gold Coast Sun, Hervey Bay Independent, Maryborough Herald, Balonne Beacon, Surat Basin News, Herbert River Express, Innisfail Advocate, Central Telegraph.
In NSW the titles to fold are Coastal Views, Northern Rivers Echo, Richmond River Express Examiner, and in Tasmania there is Tasmanian Country.
Regional titles in Queensland to become digital only include Mackay’s Daily Mercury, Rockhampton’s Morning Bulletin, Gladstone’s Observer, Bundaberg’s NewsMail, Fraser Coast Chronicle, Gympie Times, Sunshine Coast Daily, Queensland Times, Warwick Daily News, Central and North Burnett Times, Central Queensland News, Chinchilla News, Dalby Herald, Gatton Star, Noosa News, South Burnett Times, Stanthorpe Border Post, Western Star, Western Times, Whitsunday Times, Whitsunday Coast Guardian, and Bowen Independent.
Going digital only in NSW are the Tweed Daily News, Ballina Advocate, Byron Shire News, Coffs Coast Advocate, Grafton Daily Examiner, and Lismore Northern Star; Northern Territory: The Centralian Advocate.
Melbourne Leader community newspapers now digital only include Stonnington, Mornington Peninsula, Knox, Whitehorse, Monash, Northern, Whittlesea, Maroondah, Moorabbin, Mordialloc Chelsea, Moreland, Lilydale and Yarra Valley, Frankston, Bayside, Caulfield Port Phillip, Cranbourne, Greater Dandenong, Moonee Valley, Maribyrnong, and Wyndham.
Also moving online are the NewsLocal titles in NSW and ACT: Fairfield Advance, Penrith Press, Macarthur Chronicle, Blacktown Advocate, Canterbury Bankstown Express, Central Coast Express, Hills Shire Times, Hornsby Advocate, Liverpool Leader, Manly Daily, Northern District Times, Parramatta Advertiser, Inner West Courier, Southern Courier, Illawarra Star, Wagga Wagga News, St George Shire Standard, Canberra Star, Newcastle News, Blue Mountains News, Central Sydney, and South Coast News.
Queensland titles to stop printing are: Albert and Logan News, Caboolture Herald, Westside News, Pine Rivers Press, Redcliffe and Bayside Herald, South-West News, Wynnum Herald, North Lakes Times, Redlands Community News, and Springfield News.
South Australian papers moving to digital are Messenger South Plus, Messenger East Plus, Messenger North, Messenger West, Messenger City, Adelaide Hills, and Upper Spencer Gulf.