New regional paper preps as communities respond to News cuts

Discussions "all the way along the coast" are focussed on filling some the void resulting from News Corp Australia's closure of more than 100 regional newspapers at the end of this month.

Paul Thomas, whose Star News Group owns Noosa Today and Warwick's Southern Free Times in Queensland, told GXpress News' announcement had prompted approaches by a number of interested parties - notably politicians and businesspeople - in the past week.

First fruits of this are likely to be in Kingaroy, where a new independent print title is set to launch following News' decision to make the South Burnett Times digital-only (although it will continue to print neighbouring daily the Toowoomba Chronicle).

"Out of this sad mess, the good thing to come has been the positiveness of everyone," Thomas says, pointing to interest in local ownership as part of a potential model for regional publishing.

A week after News Corp Australia sounded the death knell for its Noosa News print edition, Star had Noosa Today back in a familiar print format yesterday, thanks to three working days of round-the-clock efforts.

The 28-page tabloid - printed at Australian Community Media's North Richmond, NSW print site and trucked to Noosa at a cost of $2,200 - was accompanied by a 24-page glossy property section aligned to the realestateview.com.au portal, in which ACM owners Antony Catalano and Alex Waislitz are shareholders.

Noosa Today sales manager Phil Le Pettit, who has just been elected president of the Queensland Country Press Association urged business communities to "reassess their support for the 'local rag'... and buy an advertisement" in the issue.

"Print is not dead," he said in a message to readers - "just take note of Harvey Norman and JB HiFi's print advertising strategies, and have a look in your letterbox."

Elsewhere, veteran surfer and columnist Phil Jarrett wrote that "futurists who keep telling us print is dead are being proven wrong again and again," quoting Roger Fidler in the Columbia Journalism Review that "replicating print in a digital device is much more difficult than anybody, including me, imagined."

While regional newspapers in Queensland are most affected by News' print closures, Thomas says family-owned Star's titles in Victoria have also shared the heavy impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in that state.

A benefit has been the positive approach of the Victorian government, which came forward with $40.7 million in regional advertising. So far Star - circulations of which fall predominantly in "fringe" metro-regional areas - has had no benefit from much-publicised federal funding.

Thomas says the discussions prompted by News' announcement come at an opportune time, with responses due today on the ACCC's concepts paper on the development of a draft mandatory code to address bargaining power imbalances with Google and Facebook.

"There's a real need to emphasise the importance of diversity in media, and this shows why it should be weighted towards independent publishers," he says.

Pictured: Kingaroy's landmark peanut silos

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