PIJI’s ‘huge contraction’ as another paper hits the dust

Oct 18, 2022 at 06:25 pm by admin

There are balloons on the cover of last month’s Burdekin Local News, but nothing to celebrate despite publisher Scott Morrison’s boast that they “almost made it to 100 editions”.

The paper was launched just two years ago in September 2020 after News Corp Australia merged the Burdekin Advocate into its regional daily Townsville Bulletin.

It is one of several mentioned in the Public Interest Journalism Initiative’s Australian News Data Report, which says the country’s news sector has just experienced “the third largest market contraction within a single quarter since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic”.

In the wake of a “print cost crisis” driven by global supply chain disruptions, it says at least 11 news mastheads across the country explicitly or implicitly closed due to price increases. Newsprint price increased, “reportedly up to 80 per cent for some publishers” in July 2022, and this was blamed for 11 of 16 closures in the quarter.

Author Gary Dickson says that more than half the changes from Q2/20 are of the ‘end of print edition’ change type.

Curiously, he adds, “While this change is recorded as a contraction event, it could reasonably be argued that the transition from physical to online news distribution is a sign of positive change for an industry still in the process of digital transformation.”

In a country where mobile coverage is still patchy in regional areas and “black spots” numerous, I wonder whether readers – and would-be readers – see the loss of a local print edition as an improvement.


Scott Morrison says when he launched the Local News with his wife Stacey, “we wanted to spread more good news than bad.

“But we knew we could only produce a paper if we sold each edition to cover the cost of printing and businesses bought enough advertising space to pay for the overheads.”

Advertising “started very well” – despite COVID and “never reaching levels needed” – readership grew, and all 98 editions “practically sold out”.

But Morrison – no relation of the former prime minister – says it is “simply not viable to continue making the paper”.

The PIJI report details the situation in several of the country’s markets, including one in which a new local newspaper is competing against an established local independent.

It adds that many closed outlets were regional and remote, where data indicated “the impact of the media markets’ volatility is often hardest and most immediately felt”. Provision of public interest journalism and the relative localism of news reporting can also “vary greatly from region to region”.

PIJI chief executive Anna Draffin emphasised that in addition to the volume of news, other factors such as delivery format, scale, levels of diversity, content quality and geographical relevance were all extremely important indicators of the health of news.

“For policy reform to be effective, it’s vital to understand all these different factors and their interplay,” she says.

The report was previously known as the Australian Newsroom Mapping Project.

Download it here.

Peter Coleman

Sections: Newsmedia industry


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