Your paper in peril: Newspaper publishers unite in plea for help to keep regional papers printing

The news you read in your favourite local newspaper is worth more than the paper it's printed on.

But the cost of the paper it's printed on is about to skyrocket, threatening the very existence of your local paper.

This week ACM - Australia's largest publisher of regional news and the owner of this masthead - is putting the crisis facing regional newspapers on front pages all around the country under the headline "Your paper in peril".

ACM was recently notified that the only Australian supplier of the newsprint used for regional newspapers will soon increase prices by as much as 80 per cent.

For ACM's 140 newspapers and the 190 smaller independent papers represented by Country Press Australia, the impact could be catastrophic - threatening regional news coverage and journalism jobs.

Newspaper publishers say a sharp rise in newsprint costs threatens to plunge the industry into crisis and will be "catastrophic" for regional papers and journalism jobs.

Newspaper publishers say a sharp rise in newsprint costs threatens to plunge the industry into crisis and will be "catastrophic" for regional papers and journalism jobs.

"Regional communities around Australia will be horrified and angered by the prospect of losing local jobs and local newspapers," ACM executive chairman Antony Catalano and CPA president Andrew Manuel have told key Liberal, Labor and Nationals leaders in a joint letter.

Together, ACM and CPA are calling for bipartisan support for emergency financial assistance to help save regional newspaper publishing.

"Our readers are passionate about their local newspapers and we expect that they will react strongly to closures, frequency changes or huge cover price increases," Mr Catalano and Mr Manuel write.

When ACM told a federal parliamentary inquiry in February that a looming increase in the price of newsprint would threaten the viability of its newspapers, the price rise was expected to be in the order of 30 per cent.

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But when new newsprint prices from July 1 were recently confirmed by the supplier, the cost had skyrocketed by as much as 80 per cent.

"An increase of this magnitude, imposed by the only supplier of newsprint in Australia, almost defies belief," Mr Catalano and Mr Manuel say.

"Our titles perform a vital community good and we are devastated that their future is about to be snatched away by a factor we simply cannot control."

The letter sent to Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, Labor Communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland and Deputy Prime Minister and Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce warns that without urgent financial assistance:

  • The closure of local newspapers will be widespread, leading to the creation of more "news deserts" in regional Australia.
  • The cover price of regional newspapers will rise sharply for households already struggling with living costs - cutting into the circulation of publications that are "already on a knife-edge".
  • The paging and publishing frequency of many publications will have to be reduced.
  • Hundreds of journalism jobs could be lost "at a time when the voices of regional communities need to be heard more loudly than ever".

The ACM network of 140 newspapers includes 14 daily titles such as The Canberra Times and Newcastle Herald. The company employs more than 1300 people around the country, including 600 journalists.

ACM and CPA say the cover price of regional newspapers will rise sharply for households already struggling with living costs.

ACM and CPA say the cover price of regional newspapers will rise sharply for households already struggling with living costs.

In its extensive submission to the recent parliamentary inquiry into regional newspapers, ACM said it did not want to "become reliant on continuing government handouts" and instead recommended guaranteed levels of annual government advertising in regional newspapers and tax rebates for regional businesses that advertise in their local paper.

The inquiry's final report released in March supported a number of the practical measures recommended by ACM.

In their joint letter to the major parties, ACM and CPA note that the tax concessions they had recommended to the inquiry as a way to offset rising newsprint prices would not be enough.

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"A rise of 80 per cent at such short notice means we now need immediate financial assistance to prevent closures and job losses," Mr Catalano and Mr Manual write.

"We understand that the government is in caretaker mode but by the time the election is held we will be only weeks away from an unsustainable increase in our costs."

"Intervention to support public interest journalism, including direct grants, should be done within a principles-based and evidence-informed framework," Labor communications spokeswoman Michelle Rowland said.

Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce has acknowledged "the fourth estate are incredibly important" but stopped short of committing to support regional newspapers with emergency funding.

"You can't have a democracy even in regard to local government levels unless you've got investigative journalism," he said.

"You mightn't like them all the time but they're vitally important for getting the stories out."

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher has met ACM and CPA representatives this week for a briefing on the emergency support needed to prevent closures and job losses.

This story Why we're asking for emergency support first appeared on The Canberra Times.