Regional Newspapers - Too Important to Lose

By Stephanie Stanhope

The COVID-19 crisis has had a profound impact on regional newspapers. Many newspapers around the country have now transitioned to online only. Many newspapers have significantly reduced staff numbers, page count, localised content, and publication frequency. Some newspapers stopped publication for a time, and then started again in a different, reduced, way. Some newspapers have ceased publication all together.

The regional newspaper, or news media, ‘crisis’, whilst tipped over the edge by the COVID-19 pandemic, was long in the making. The advent of digital content aggregation platforms, i.e. multinational social media and search engine websites, and the associated changes to advertising by businesses, has caused a significant reduction in advertising revenue and has resulted in many cases, in an unviable business model for regional print, with many smaller newspapers in particular, left behind. This phenomenon hasn’t only affected regional news, and government agencies have been exploring solutions to the disparity, for quite some time. The ACCC has found that there is not yet any indication of a business model that can effectively replace the advertiser model, of journalism in Australia. Once again though, regional and smaller news providers , who do not have large audiences , are hit the hardest by a reduction in advertising revenue. The situation is dire yes, but it can't be all doom and gloom, with change and loss there is opportunity, and space for innovation and growth.

Some regional communities have embraced this and are succeeding and thriving in a new and ever changing media landscape. New viable business models are needed, because one thing is for sure: Regional people love and need their local news, and commercial news media is essential to media plurality. The ABC and the SBS are treasured and essential news, entertainment and information services, especially for regional people. This has been demonstrated recently with coverage of the recent bushfires heavily relied on by impacted people. Local news is news that is relevant, and important, to regional communities.

A healthy democracy is contingent on local government and court reporting. Decision makers need to be held to account, people need to be informed  and regional people need to be acknowledged, celebrated, supported. There is something very special about the community values of regional areas. Maybe the isolation is overcome by a sense of togetherness. My view is that a newspaper is one of the main elements of the sense of community and belonging. Personally, I like a printed copy, and I know many people prefer a hard copy to read, or aren’t able to access a high standard of connectivity to view news in digital format adequately. Lots of people enjoy reading on their screen too, and find the digital version just as good. Whatever the format, I am hopeful about the future for regional news. It’s too important to lose.