Independents' day: Courier-Mail goes regional as new papers launch

The first of what is expected to be a raft of new Queensland print newspapers has set its launch date for the middle of this month.

Burnett Today, with two editions centred on Kingaroy, launches July 16 with a team recruited from News Corp's former print edition there, and the backing of two experienced regional publishers.

And GXpress has heard of at least two more new print mastheads - in Gympie and Rockhampton - preparing to address the "print desert" created by News Corp Australia's closure of most of its regional daily and nondaily print editions.

Former general manager of South Burnett Times Daniel Pelcl heads a team of three local journalists and four support staff and advertising consultants made redundant with the closure of the News Corp print edition. Providing support and advice are Victorian newspaper publishers Paul Thomas (Star News Group) and Bruce Ellen (LaTrobe Valley Express), and Queensland-based media consultant Damian Morgan.

Star, which has existing titles in Noosa and Warwick, is also understood to be involved in the new Gympie newspaper.

The Kingaroy launch is expected to be the first in Queensland since the News Corp print closures. Only the Cairns Post, Townsville Bulletin and Gold Coast Bulletin, and former APN masthead the Toowoomba Chronicle are still being published both in print and digitally.

Burnett Today has found a helpful and accommodating print partner - with attractive pricing and delivery arrangements - in ACM's North Richmond (NSW) print centre, which was upgraded by then owner Fairfax Media to print the Sydney Morning Herald and Australian Financial Review, and currently prints Star's Noosa Today.

"We'd have liked to have printed locally because of the deadlines, but ACM has looked after us really well," says Pelcl.

He says "amazing community support" and outcry over the redundancies has led the new owners to believe they can meet and exceed targets for the newspaper, for which 6200 paid-sale circulation is planned. The six-strong team are "all just as passionate about the new paper as I am," he says.

Two (of the remaining four) journalists are understood to have taken up positions in News' digital team.

Being one of the owners is a "surreal" experience for Pelcl, who entered the industry 11 years ago as a sales rep in Gayndah, and has spent the last four as general manager of the Kingaroy operation.

He promises a "hyperlocal" product, with a local team, focussed on local news, local issues, and local people. Talking of a "social contract" with locals, he says local news is a lifeblood of local communities. "There will always be demand for high quality local journalism. We also believe newspapers still have a significant role to play in regional communities, along with digital news", he said.

Being a local business is important, "just like the businesses who will advertise with us," he says. "We know we'll only be successful if the local community embraces us as 'one of them'."

Meanwhile, in NSW - where Antony Catalano's Australian Community Media had suspended many of its print editions - new regional newspapers have been launched, among them in the affluent Southern Highlands, Yass, and the Northern Rivers region centred around Casino.

Having launched a quality glossy magazine for the region in 2017, Sharon and Jeff Gibbs have extended their reach with the Northern Rivers Times, while the Yass and Southern Highlands mastheads are fresh responses to the voids left by recent closures.

Former TV journalist Jasmin Jones and two "silent partners" have put their own money into the Yass Valley Times, launched early last month and a response to the suspension of ACM's Yass Tribune.

The ABC reported that she had responded to seeing death notices in shop windows by thinking, "our community deserves better than this".

In the region around Bowral, Mittagong and Moss Vale, the Southern Highlands Express takes its name from an historic steam train, but plans to be a thoroughly up-to-date alternative news source. Cristian King of publisher King Media Group believes regional titles should be run as small businesses, "without the governance of a large enterprise", and is looking to local businesses to support the venture with their advertising.

In Narracoorte in South Australia, The News, a new newspaper launched by former financial adviser Michael Waite when printing of ACM's Naracoorte Herald was suspended in April 2020 - claims to have broken even in its first month.

In an ABC report, he said that five issues into the weekly publication, support had "exceeded his every expectation". The paper is reported to have attracted new advertisers and partners to finance it and journalists to staff it.

In Queensland's Sunshine Coast, News Corp has apparently gone back in time with an editionised Courier-Mail aimed at picking up readers who are missing their regular print newspaper "fix". An edition of the Brisbane metro daily included two pages of regional news headed with the mastheads of the Maroochydore-based Sunshine Coast Daily and Gympie Times. Today's locally-printed paper has stories from the Coast area and hinterland, and as far north as Wide Bay and Rainbow Beach... while a report of sightings of legendary yowies "lurking" on the Coast made the front page.

Peter Coleman

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