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How much longer can flagging regional newspapers be propped up

Whilst the Government has announced a package of measures to help sustain Australian media businesses as they do the vital work of keeping the community informed during the COVID-19 pandemic the rebates and packages will only temporarily help offset the sharp downturn in advertising revenue, which has significantly impacted their operating revenues. The Government says it recognises that public interest journalism is essential to informing local communities, particularly in relation to national and global events such as COVID-19. Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, the Hon Paul Fletcher MP, said “Many Australians are doing it tough right now and the media sector is sharing that pain, especially in regional areas. Broadcasters and newspapers face significant financial pressure and COVID-19 has led to a sharp downturn in advertising revenue across the whole sector.

“We are acting to offer urgent short-term support to the media sector." Locally we have seen the dramatic reduction in printed pages in the ACM papers such as the Bay Post and Narooma News that are at best 16 pages with more than 50% of the space devoted to advertising and TV liftouts. Under a contract to Domain to be a carrier for its Real Estate Guide our local mastheads have become little but billboards for sale at any price with front page wrap around pages purporting to be the front cover of the paper now sold to the highest bidder, in most cases a national telco. Readers of the papers might be encouraged to opt in for on-line local news to be found behind a paywall but in the case of our own mastheads they would be disappointed to find that the local news they seek is rare, instead finding regional news that is fed from the 'mothership' of ACM to its regional outlets. Even then the volume of 'local' news that is reported on is to be found wanting. For Narooma there is little if any news reported in recent times. This is in stark contrast to the days when the editor of the Narooma News had an office in the town and built a respected network that saw solid town content. Now the newspaper is edited remotely and the local news is little more than a few columns with the inclusion of a contributed fishing report that is mostly a week old. The point of all of this is that multi-million dollar media companies are crying poor for handout saying advertising has dropped off and they are going to the wall yet they have made a bed for themselves by not adapting to the new. Media in general has lost prime revenue to on-line advertising via Facebook and Google. Even the ACM papers rely on Google AdSense for their revenue. The smart news papers, such as the Guardian, have focused on quality, ensured trust and built a new financial platform via subscriptions based on loyalty. The government should have a good look at what they are supporting in the media with their package to ensure that they are not just propping up a lame beast that will, without fail, fall over and die irrespective of how much help you might offer. The days are gone of news papers being printed, driven around the country, with not much content; but just enough to make it appear the sixteen pages or so are not just wall to wall advertising. If nothing at all, COVID has taught many in the community, in isolation, that there isn't a need to buy the paper to stay informed. Many are rediscovering the radio with ABC achieving record listener engagement. In isolation there has been a surge in internet uptake with many of the older members of the community, once reliant on newspapers, now embracing a tablet or phone and logging into their favourite alternate news feeds and engaging with social media. The old model of a newspaper, with an office, a printing press and two editions a week that were out of date the minute they were landed are over; reporting on news that happened days and sometimes a week ago just doesn't wash. Those days are gone. Readers want news now. They also want it free. These are new days for old mastheads and they are going to have to adapt or fail. And for the likes of NewsCorp or ACM to put their hands out for government assistance to prop up an industry that has made their fortunes from their once powerful monopoly might not cut it in a post COVID world.

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