News Corp Australia warns of coronavirus crisis job cuts as smaller regional papers close

Staff at Murdoch newspapers told job cuts inevitable as advertising downturn forces closure of independent rural titles

Rupert Murdoch’s Australian newspapers have warned staff of “inevitable” job cuts, as several independently owned regional papers become the first media casualties of the economic impact of the coronavirus.

This is terrible for local journalism. Local papers Yarram Standard and the Great Southern Star have been shut down and won't be publishing further editions. Staff say advertising revenue is down. Yarram Standard has been in publication for more than 120 years. @COVID_Australia

— Kellie Lazzaro (@kellazzaro) March 23, 2020

Regional newspapers in Victoria, some older than 100 years, have shut suddenly as revenue from advertising dried up overnight.

News Corp Australasia chief executive Michael Miller said executives will take a “significant” pay cut as the advertising market collapses and staff should brace for job losses and cutbacks including forced leave, part-time work and nine-day fortnights.

“I want to assure you that my priority is to preserve as many jobs across the company as possible, but it is now clear that some job losses will be inevitable,” Miler told staff across the company’s mastheads including the Australian, the Herald Sun and the Daily Telegraph.

“Together we need to move quickly to do everything we can to secure the health of our business and retain jobs.”

Miller said work conditions, which he expected to stay in place at least until the end of May, had changed dramatically and newspapers were “reinventing” how news is gathered.

MEAA writes to the Government urging it unlock the Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package so regional newspapers can be kept alivehttps://t.co/I2gh5AR8y2#MEAAmedia #COVID19 pic.twitter.com/703qABp6a8

— MEAA (@withMEAA) March 25, 2020

“Over recent days we have unfortunately seen many companies having to reduce their workforce due to mandated business closures, travel and trade restrictions, and rapidly changing consumer habits,” Miller said in reference to the downturn in the advertising market.

#Covid19 Like many, I’ve been told I’ll be out of work in a matter of weeks. Tough times in such uncertain circumstances. I’m devastated - I love my job and the community I report for and hope to be back soon. Our local media needs support like never before. Buy your local paper.

— Mitch Clarke (@24mitchclarke) March 24, 2020

In regional Victoria communities have been devastated by the closure of well-established titles.

This year, the Sunraysia Daily was supposed to be celebrating its centenary, but at a meeting on Tuesday staff were told Saturday’s paper would be the last until further notice.

Staff will also be stood down at three other Elliott Newspaper Group mastheads, including the free weekly Sunraysia Life, the tri-weekly Swan Hill Guardian and the bi-weekly Gannawarra Times at Kerang and the Loddon Times in the Loddon Mallee region of Victoria.

The managing director of the Elliott Newspaper group, Ross Lanyon, said advertising accounted for 70% of revenue.

“It is our current intention that when this crisis subsides that we will be able to revive our printed publications,” Lanyon said.

“Over recent weeks the newspapers have not received anything near the usual commercial support across all advertising sectors to remain viable as a publisher.

“This in combination with a grimmer economic outlook facing us, and the fact clients continue to cancel their spending gave us no option.”

Lanyon was critical of major advertisers who ignored the smaller regional papers when buying advertising space to make major announcements recently.

The newspaper owned by the Mildura-based Lanyon family has been a pillar of the community for more than 100 years.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance called on the government to unlock $40m in funding in the regional and small publishers jobs and innovation package.

The MEAA wrote to the communications minister, Paul Fletcher, urging him to release the money to regional publishers.

“Local publications in particular are lifelines for their communities; they know them intimately,” MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom said. “We are concerned about what will fill the void left by their closure. In such a vacuum, misinformation and ‘fake news’ can flourish.

“While most of the rest of us are locked in our homes, many journalists will still be out risking their health to inform the community.”

The job losses foreshadowed at News Corp come as its audiences are significantly up due to the audience’s thirst for coronavirus information.

News Corp’s audience was up by 48% last week and the Daily Telegraph had a record subscription day on Friday, a spokesman said. News.com.au has doubled the page views it had during the bushfires since the coronavirus story broke.

But subscriptions can’t make up for the dramatic drop in advertising revenue as travel, food and other major categories lose clients.

Contributor

Amanda Meade

The GuardianTramp

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