Newspaper presses silenced in end of era

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Today marks the end of the era of a community newspaper in every town and region in the country, with many presses falling silent for the last time, victims of the Covid crash, new technology, and structural changes in society.

End of an era: Balonne Beacon one of hundreds of community papers unlikely to be seen again
End of an era: Balonne Beacon one of hundreds of community papers unlikely to be seen again

The two big regional publishers, ACM and News, and dozens of smaller publishers, have shelved, postponed, or plain closed community and regional papers around the nation, with the week ending yesterday June 30 the final publishing date for many of them. Newspaper people have been using Twitter to post images of their final issues.

As the newspapers close so regional and community printing plants are closing. The future of News Corp's regional print sites is uncertain. They include the relatively new Yandina Centre (Sunshine Coast), with News just opeing a two week discussion period, at the end of which it will merge Yandina and Murarrie into one plant. Rival ACM has itself mothballed four print plants – Canberra, Murray Bridge, Wodonga, and Tamworth – as it suspended printing of 160 community titles in early April. News is the dominant newspaper printer in much of Queensland and NSW, ACM in Victoria, Seven West in WA. Many print plants are likley to rmeian closed.

Regional and community printed newspapers have been at the heart of Australian life for 210 years, since the country's first regional paper, the Derwent Star, was published in 1810. However, the smartphone has forever changed the media landscape. Printed newspaper revenues have been in decline ever since; Covid merely hastened the arrival of the grim reaper.

ACM currently has 160 of its 170 titles not being printed. News Corp is sending 76 of its 112 papers online and closing the rest. It is not only small towns and communities impacted; large areas such as the Sunshine Coast are now without a printed newspaper.

In WA, the biggest publisher, Seven West Media, has just hired former Fairfax CEO Greg Hywood to assess its print operations and create a pathway for the future for its business. Hywood famously instigated a digital-first policy at Fairfax, resulting in the closure of print plants and the downsizing in size and quality of remaining print versions of mastheads including The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald. The future of the WA printed press looks far from assured.

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.

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