No 'news desert' in Noosa, as regional print vacuum eases

Sixteen-hundred copies of all-colour quarto newsletter Cooroora Connect were among the last jobs printed on the web at News Corp Australia's Warwick print site before it closed last week.

An "initiative" of the non-profit Pomona & District Community House, the monthly magazine is one of a number of local publications for whom the future is looking brighter since News withdrew print editions from more than 100 of its regional daily and nondaily newspapers, most of them in Queensland. Among them were the Noosa News, Sunshine Coast Daily and a clutch of community papers in towns such as Buderim, Caloundra, Coolum, Kawana/Maroochy and Nambour on the Coast alone.

Star News Group's Noosa Today has risen from an apparent near-death experience and the non-profit Cooroy Rag is about to return from a COVID-19-driven furlough.

In a well-written and comprehensive issue for the Noosa hinterland community, editor Heather Manders notes that these, with Connect and two "very localised publications in Ridgewood and Forest Acres", are all that is left for print news readers in the shire.

Meanwhile, with the closure of News' Warwick Daily News and its Manugraph-equipped print plant with the reported loss of 41 jobs, the newsletter is looking for a printer.

So are others: Out west, James Clark, the proprietor of the Warrego Watchman in Cunnamulla, who currently prints at News Corp's Yandina print site, was in touch to know of options if it's closed as a result of current talks to "consolidate" Yandina and Murarrie, News' jumbo-sized metro Brisbane print site. Featured in an ABC documentary in 2012, he revealed that contracting print out to the then-APN Toowoomba press - instead of printing the Watchman inhouse on an elderly East German press - saved his marriage... a reality he confirmed with the "significant arrival" of Tex Gordon Carr Clark the following January.

News owns all the functioning newspaper printing capacity in Queensland, and as of this month that's limited to Townsville and whichever gets the nod of Yandina and Murarrie (no prizes for guessing, but we'd love to see the flexible hybrid Yandina come out on top; the matter will likely be resolved by moving a press).

That's after last month's print site closures in Warwick and Rockhampton - where about another 35 people worked - and earlier closures at Ormiston (the flexible Goss-equipped former Fairfax site closed as a result of "capacity-sharing" with News, and now earmarked for News Melbourne), Matt Horton's Horton Media site in Narangba (closed due to market conditions), and former APN sites closed at Mackay, Bundaberg, Ballina and Toowoomba (and that's just in recent memory).

The preferred alternative - not because they're close by, which they're not at 1000 km and about 12 hours by road, but because now owner Antony Catalano's Australian Community Media is welcoming - is the former Fairfax/Rural Press print site at North Richmond, NSW, which was upgraded to print the Sydney Morning Herald and the Australian Financial Review prior to the sharing agreement taking that and other papers away to News' Chullora site.

Star is using North Richmond again for Noosa Today, after it was forced out of Yandina when the hybrid site "didn't have a slot" for them, and will also print new launch Gympie Today there later this month, for the former gold town where News has killed a 153-year-old print edition.

As reported last week, Gympie Today has the support of Star's Paul Thomas, who is joined by director Damian Morgan and two other former Gympie Times investors - former manager Phil Le Petit and sales consultant Andrew Guiver - with hopes of "the beginning of a new era in local news". The new paper will start with a once a week 'hyper-local' print edition as well as an online edition.

Le Petit's current role is as sales manager at Noosa Today, which is immediately blossoming - at 44pp tabloid plus 32 glossy property - with surfing fanatic and creator of the 1990s upmarket glossy Noosa Blue magazine Phil Jarrett onboard now as associate editor, and a team of five other journalists and three in sales, some of these recruited from Noosa News. Le Petit has also just been elected president of the Queensland Country Press Association.

So News Corp's swathe of print edition cuts has been a story of 'bad news, good news', aptly expressed by David Lovejoy of Byron Bay newsletter EchoNet Daily, who discussed the mixed blessing with, "How dare this American billionaire destroy so many vital community assets in Australia for the sake of saving a fraction of one per cent of his fortune."

However, on second thoughts, he says, perhaps "not so bad" with the loss of influence of an owner whose organisation has become "more like a far-right political party than a purveyor of news", with its papers "spattered by the venom of tosspots and bigots, whose views were apparently formed in South Africa in the sixties... its television produced by angry racists", and its "hysterical tirades" against the ABC. Qualifying that with, "to be fair, it is only News Corp's rabid metropolitan tabloids and The Australian, home of ancient white male privilege, that deserve our contempt".

Despite this and the criticisms of Brian O'Connor of Cooroora Connect of News' "cookie-cutter McNewspapers", I shall miss the informed journalism of the Noosa News, as I am sure will be others deprived of their local paper, as "up to half" of regional journalists in the company lose their jobs.

But not enough to buy a second News digital subscription (yes, The Australian is a business expense) to access it, especially now.

Peter Coleman

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