Regional communities and journalists will be among those most affected by the latest round of newspaper shutdowns announced by News Corp last week, according to UC Assistant Professor in Journalism Dr Caroline Fisher.
The Australian media giant announced on Thursday that 112 papers would cease printing this month, with 76 of the publications continuing as digital-only.
The decision was made in response to the negative impacts of the coronavirus which has led to a big drop in advertising, compounding the financial woes facing the news media industry.
While it may seem like the beginning of the end, Caroline says she expects the decline of print media to remain gradual over the coming years.
“We do see a steady turn towards digital news each year as we track people’s news consumption,” she says.
“But that doesn’t mean that people will stop reading newspapers or watching TV altogether, it just means there is a gradual shift away from them.”
Caroline also says that audiences have a soft spot for their local papers.
“If it was left up to dedicated local audiences, I think they’d keep reading print news for quite a while longer.”
“Unfortunately, the decision isn’t being made by audiences – it’s being made by businesses that are struggling because of the loss of advertising.”
Among the closures are many newspapers that have been providers of local information for rural and regional communities. Now, those communities will be without a dedicated news source that focuses on local issues.
“Regional communities are going to be hit very hard,” Caroline says.
“Everyone needs access to reliable information about their community and some populations are going to have to make do with less.”
While communities will still have access to news, it won’t be tailored to the issues that affect them directly.
“They can access news from around the world online. They might be within the footprint of a local radio or TV news station, but they won’t have a dedicated newspaper reporter in their town,” Caroline says.
Within the affected communities, there will be significant consequences for one demographic – the elderly – who may not have access to digital content.
“We know from our research that older generations read print newspapers much more than young people,” Caroline says.
And while audiences will be affected, there are also economic impacts in regional communities if local businesses are left without relevant advertising options.
“There’s a whole range of democratic, economic, community, and health and wellbeing effects that come from the loss of a newspaper.”
“Local papers help create a strong sense of community identity. So when it closes, the loss undermines community and business morale.”
The economic impacts of the shutdowns reach further than just the regional towns where local papers existed. It is estimated more than 500 people will also lose their jobs as a result of the latest round of cuts by News Corp.
Caroline says that while these cuts aren’t new in the media industry, they’ll certainly have an effect on the employability of journalists in traditional media roles.
“Previously when we’ve seen mass job losses, those losses have been absorbed by new online media ventures like The Guardian Australia, The Saturday Paper, Huffington Post, BuzzFeed Australia and 10Daily,” she says.
“Now, some of those operations are also closing their doors or downsizing and there’s fewer straight journalism options for unemployed reporters to go.”
She hopes that the broad skill sets of journalists will help them in their job search.
“The skills that journalists have are incredibly adaptable. I imagine they’ll find other employment with those skills, but perhaps not more traditional reporting or journalism roles.”
“At the moment those opportunities are really limited.”
It’s clear that the shutdown of these papers will have far reaching impacts. Regional communities and journalists are just two of the victims – but Caroline says all Australians will suffer as a result of the closures.
“These particular shutdowns may have been very isolated, but the reality is that the Australian media landscape as a whole is diminished by this,” she says.
“This really is a crisis, and it’s not overstating to say it’s a real tipping point for the health of the Australian news media.”
“It should be of concern to everybody that it’s happening.”
Words by Elly Mackay.
Dr Caroline Fisher will be moderating a panel discussion at the online launch of the Digital News Report 2020. The event will be hosted by the News and Media Research Centre from the University of Canberra. Register here.