Speculation a News deal behind ACM's Ballarat print closure

In Victoria, closed last night by a resumed pandemic lockdown, a project on a patch once known as 'pleurisy plains' could become a plague on printers' jobs.

There is speculation that as Australian Community Media revises plans to reduce printing capacity, News Corp Australia may take over printing of Nine Melbourne metro daily The Age and other work, contributing to the loss of 120 jobs up the road in Ballarat.

A News spokesman declined to comment on whether it was to print the paper or in discussions about doing so.

ACM's revised closure plans take out all its print capacity in Victoria and the two nearest sites outside the state. The company had previously suspended production in Wodonga - which is on the Victorian side of the now-divided 'twin city' of Albury-Wodonga - plus Canberra, Murray Bridge (SA) and Tamworth (NSW).

Now talks are going on about closing the extensive Ballarat site, with yesterday's ACM announcement appearing to be a reprieve for the press in the 'country music capital' of Tamworth.

But Tamworth is a long way from the publishing centres of many of ACM's daily and nondaily newspapers in Victoria and New South Wales.

A "capacity sharing" agreement between News Corp and the then Fairfax Media in 2018 led to News taking on work from Fairfax in Sydney and Brisbane, and the closure of Fairfax sites in Beresfield and Ormiston.

No deal eventuated in Melbourne, where News deemed Ballarat "too far out of town" to print its Herald-Sun and The Australian, and News is currently building a greenfield print site in Truganina - the outer Melbourne suburb once known as 'pleurisy plains' because of the health impacts of its unfavourable climate - equipped with two modern presslines.

Now there is speculation that, equipped with this new facility, News is poaching the Age contract from ACM and taking on other work from the Ballarat site, leading to its closure.

Peter Coleman

Pictured: Matt Hancock checks a copy of The Age when production switched to Ballarat in 2014

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