Dozens of Australian newspapers stop printing as coronavirus crisis hits advertising

Federal government confirms it will announce a rescue package for the media industry this week

Dozens of regional newspapers have suspended printing and regional broadcasters are planning to drop bulletins in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic as the federal government confirms it will announce a rescue package for the media industry this week.

Australian Community Media, which publishes 170 community titles, says it is suspending some of its non-daily newspapers as a result of the “devastating impact” of the pandemic but has not specified how many mastheads are affected.

However, Guardian Australia understands staff on the Wimmera Mail Times, Stawell Times and Ararat Advertiser were stood down without pay from Monday.

There are 14 daily titles in the ACM group, including the former Fairfax titles the Canberra Times and the Newcastle Herald, which the company’s CEO, Antony Catalano, says will continue operating, along with the Land and Queensland Country Life.

Sad news for regional media - Australian Community Media is closing 4 printing presses including Canberra, and suspending printing of 'a number' of non-daily papers.

— Sally Whyte (@sallywhyte) April 14, 2020

But dozens of ACM’s smaller papers will cease printing until the end of the financial year.

“For reasons beyond our control, we cannot sustain the same level of useful work or costs moving forward,” Catalano said.

“Accordingly, we have no choice but to temporarily cease some of our publications and temporarily close our printing sites in Canberra, Murray Bridge, Wodonga and Tamworth from April 20 until June 29.”

Several independently owned regional newspapers, including the Sunraysia Daily with more than 100 years of publishing history, have already closed.

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It’s not just regional media suffering from the collapse of the advertising industry since the coronavirus hit.

The nation’s biggest media companies, including News Corp Australia, Seven West Media, Ten Network and Nine Entertainment, have all been slashing costs in the past few weeks. News has stopped printing 60 community newspapers and has asked staff to take holidays and work a shorter week. Nine newspapers have stopped printing sections which are not getting any advertising in the current environment.

But a chronic lack of advertising revenue may force even more job losses and newspaper closures in coming months, industry sources say.

Regional broadcasters have been lobbying the government for an assistance package to help with transmission costs after $5m was released early last week from the $48m regional and small publishers innovation fund.

Australia’s communications minister, Paul Fletcher, has signalled he is talking to the media industry about a possible bailout.

“Broadcasters and newspapers, especially in regional areas, are facing significant financial pressures, with advertising revenues sharply down,” Fletcher said.

“The government recognises that regional media is essential in informing and strengthening local communities.

“I am working closely with the media sector to better understand the impacts they are facing, and expect to be able to say more next week about potential measures the government is considering.”

In a note to the US stock exchange on Monday, News Corp said the coronavirus crisis was likely to have a “material adverse impact” on its global business, including Australia.

News said advertising and single-copy sales revenues have been hit hard by “widespread business closures, social distancing measures and economic uncertainty resulting from Covid-19”.

Foxtel has laid off 200 staff and stood down a further 140 after the postponement of the AFL and NRL hit its subscription revenue from broadcast and Kayo subscribers.

The closure of pubs and clubs and lower occupancy at hotels throughout Australia has also hit Foxtel and Kayo’s subscription revenue.

The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance criticised ACM for not consulting with staff and not making clear which publications are affected, and called on the government to help regional media.

“ACM is Australia’s largest owner of regional and rural publications, and for a company of this size to be closing down mastheads is more evidence, if any was needed, that the future of regional media in this country is under threat,” the MEAA director of media, Neill Jones, said.

“Advertising revenues have been devastated by coronavirus, and we have seen close to a dozen mastheads close in the last fortnight while the communications minister Paul Fletcher has sat on his hands.

“More than ever, rural and regional communities need trusted sources of news and the government must provide emergency funding.”


Amanda Meade

The GuardianTramp

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