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  • Writer's pictureThe Beagle

Another handout for ACM but how long can they continue being propped up

Readers of the Bay Post and Narooma News have become used to reading a shadow of what was once a reputable local news paper. After Australian Community Media bought the South East mastheads things began to change. Staff were reduced, content was cloned across the region, the Bay Post became once a week rather than twice, the Moruya Examiner disappeared all together and the editions now printed usually only have 16 pages of which 6 or pages in all carry advertising. Soon after purchase ACM cried poor at the impact that Facebook and Google were having on their bottom line. Then came Covid. Announcing that ACM was awarded $10.3 million from under the Public Interest News Gathering (Ping) grant scheme on 29 June 2020, the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, said the grants were to help regional publishers sustain public interest journalism in the face of sharp falls in advertising revenue due to the pandemic.

“In the case of newspaper publishers the funding is conditional on titles which have been suspended recommencing printing, recommencing publications, and that will be a condition of the grant agreements which must be entered into before funding can flow,” Fletcher said at the time.

“In the case of newspaper publishers, that funding is for print newspapers. And so where printing of newspaper editions has been suspended, that will need to recommence before funding can flow.” Locally the "suspended" Moruya Examiner didn't come back. More recently Australian Community Media (ACM), which is the country's largest regional news publisher, led a Country Press Australia (CPA) campaign for an immediate cash injection to compensate for an increase in the cost of printing newspapers of up to 80 per cent. They claimed paper prices were hiking and as a result they needed further government support. The 80% increase was the figure being thrown around in May 2022. Infaltion and fuel prices might have added to that figure. It now appears as though their plea for help has been heard with the Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP, today announcing applications for the Federal Government’s $15 million Regional and Local Newspaper Publishers Program open today, Monday 1 August 2022, saying "The program will deliver on Labor’s commitment to support eligible print publishers by helping them absorb newsprint price increases, which threaten the sustainability of newspapers and journalism jobs across Australia.

Under the program, $10 million is available for eligible regional newspaper publishers, and $5 million for eligible independent suburban, First Nations and multicultural newspaper publishers". “The Albanese Government is committed to supporting the regional and local print newspaper industry to avoid a catastrophic loss of local papers as a result of significant price increases in newsprint that kicked in on 1 July this year." That is all very nice but consider that ACM is just one of two eligible regional newspaper publishers that needs to share the $10 million the spoils of this hand out will be shortlived. On June 15th 2022 the following (in part) was sent to newsagents "With rising fuel and energy prices and other supply chain pressures adding further unavoidable costs to the production and distribution of our products, we are asking our readers to support their favourite local newspaper by paying a higher cover price.

This will be a vital contribution towards keeping our publications in print, and it will help sustain local journalism, our business and in turn yours, by keeping our products available in the local marketplace.

The cover price rise will go some way towards offsetting the higher cost of newsprint but it won’t fully cover it.

That’s why we have also sought government support to protect local newspapers, regional news coverage and journalism jobs." The cost of papers have gone up. Local demand for local papers has fallen, as reflected in newsagent sales. It is all but impossible for the papers to get any thinner. The weekly free Independent is still being printed and distributed Thursdays. Given that this paper has little, if any news, the only justification for its existence is to serve as a delivery device for the ACM glossy real estate guide and any other inclusions ACM can muster to cover costs. The true impact of increased paper costs must result in the withdrawal of the weekly edition of the Independent "Minister for Communications, the Hon Michelle Rowland MP says "Local news is critical to regional communities across Australia" She now appears committed to covering the cost of printing the Independent. That is tax payer money. Obviously she hasn't read an Independent. Maybe she should. Applications will be open for 3 weeks from 9am AEST Monday 1 August 2022 until 5pm AEST Friday 19 August 2022.

The Minister says "This is a demand-driven program, with all eligible applicants to receive a grant based on their proportion of print costs. The Department is the final decision-maker for grants under this program." Rather than being demand driven based on proportion of print costs maybe the Minister should consider if the "newspapers" actually deserve being printed in the first place. NOTE: The Beagle receives no funding from the government, Facebook or Google. Nor does it want, or need any funding from these sources. The Beagle is funded from local advertiser, supporters and donors.

NOTE: Comments were TRIALED - in the end it failed as humans will be humans and it turned into a pile of merde; only contributed to by just a handful who did little to add to the conversation of the issue at hand. Anyone who would like to contribute an opinion are encouraged to send in a Letter to the Editor where it might be considered for publication

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