Local mayors are devastated by Australia’s largest publisher cutting jobs and closing more than 100 newspapers across the country.
News Corp Australia announced on Thursday the bulk of its regional and suburban community papers will go digital-only from June 29.
It has been reported up to a third of jobs at the company could be axed under the restructure, but the final figure has not been settled.
The moves affect 112 newspapers that reach more than six million people across Australia. While 36 papers in Queensland, NSW and Victoria will close altogether, another 76 others are to become digital-only.
“Today’s announcements … will mean some job roles will change and regretfully, will lead to job losses,” News Corp executive chairman Michael Miller Miller said on Thursday.
“COVID-19 has impacted the sustainability of community and regional publishing.”
The journalists’ union has said it believes about 150 editorial jobs will be cut, with more in other areas of the business.
The changes will take effect from the end of June.
Australian Local Government Association president David O’Loughlin said it was another blow for regional communities.
“Local newspapers have done a terrific job at telling local stories,” he said.
“There’s a real risk now of those stories not being told unless they’re sensationalised and make it into the major statewide mastheads.”
News Corp is to stop printing all these newspapers and make them digital only: pic.twitter.com/PLyZHNGxtj
— Bevan Shields (@BevanShields) May 27, 2020
He doubted the papers that remained in a digital format would last long, saying coronavirus had forever broken the link between local news and local advertising.
“Going digital-only is just another step in the slow slide to extinction,” Mr O’Loughlin said.
“New ways need to be found to have local news and local scrutiny.”
The review also took in News Corp-owned Foxtel. The implications for the struggling pay-TV network are yet to be revealed.
News Corp’s major dailies, including the Herald Sun and The Daily Telegraph, will become more state focused, drawing content from regional and community journalists.
Larger regional papers, including the Hobart Mercury, NT News and Geelong Advertiser, will continue to be published.
In Sydney, The Wentworth Courier, Mosman Daily and North Shore Times – which Mr Miller said served the city’s “most affluent suburbs” – will also still be printed.
In an email to staff, Mr Miller pointed to the coronavirus’ impact on print advertising revenue for the changes.
News Corp ceased printing many of the affected publications in April, as advertising revenue collapsed amid coronavirus shutdowns.
On Thursday, he said there would have to be a fundamental shift in how the company operated, including hiring digital-only journalists and focusing on online advertising.
Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance chief executive Paul Murphy said the union knew the review was underway but had no official advice from News Corp before Thursday’s announcement.
“Our understanding is up to 150 editorial positions will be affected by this, which is obviously devastating for those staff, for those journalists who have served their communities so well,” he told the ABC.
“It’s also a huge blow for the communities losing so much of their local news coverage.”
Many of the regional mastheads had been part of their communities for years. Among them is the Manly Daily, which will become digital-only after first being printed in 1906.
“It really underlines the scale of the crisis confronting regional and local journalism in this country, which has been brought to a head by this pandemic,” Mr Murphy said.
Media companies across the country are making massive cuts or shutting shop completely during the coronavirus pandemic. Among the latest to close are Buzzfeed Australia and 10daily.