Editorial

Local communities, regional and suburban, up and down the country’s eastern states, felt the reverberation last week of the announcement that 60 local newspapers owned by media giant Newscorp, would turn off the presses and go home.

The announcement was all the doomier following so closely on the heels of the closure of several independent Victorian newspapers the previous month.  Managing director of the Elliot Newspaper group, publisher of Mildura’s Sunraysia Daily, Ross Lanyon, was quoted by the ABC saying that Tuesday was the worst day of his life.

“It was a terrible day to have to face your staff, your friends, people who have worked for our family for 40, 50 years and explain that under current conditions our newspapers are no longer
viable.”

What exactly does a community loose when it loses its newspaper?
Manager of the Latrobe Valley Express and Gippsland Times, Bruce Ellen said he had dire concerns about the future of community journalism.

“If we lose our newspapers, we lose community. The only place that a local community gets the news about themselves, their families, their local governments and local sport is their local newspaper, because nobody else does it.”

The Sunraysia Daily announced its closure with the dramatic headline ‘The death of democracy’. Clearly newspaper publishers still see their own role as relevant if not vital to their community.

Mayor of Liverpool, NSW, Wendy Waller remembered the Newscorp owned Liverpool Leader.

“The Leader has been part of the fabric of Liverpool life for more than 70 years.

“I remember it from a very early age as being the paper that people went to as a trusted source of information.

“But it is more than that. The Leader is about community, connection, news and entertainment.”

Mayor Waller said the Leader did not always run stories that Council agreed with, but that this was an important part of living in a democracy.

However, the decline of newspapers did not come out of nowhere. Print media has been struggling to remain relevant for 15 years.

Some have suggested social isolation hastened readers towards digital platforms for the immediacy that format can offer.

The economy’s rapid contraction certainly drove advertisers to ground, anticipating the looming recession that would follow the COVID-19 lock down.

If they were on a sounder footing in February 2020, 100 year old local newspapers would have survived the virus, just as they survived the Great Depression and two world wars.

If local communities truly believe in the value of local newspapers and recognise their importance in a democratic society then this is an opportunity for an entrepreneurial phoenix, with printer’s ink in his or her veins, to rise from the ashes and replant local news in the print media desert.