An association that represents regional newspapers in NSW is “assessing options” about where it will send its publications to be printed with ACM expected to turn off its presses at North Richmond at the end of June.
Country Press NSW president and publisher of the Gilgandra Weekly and Nyngan Weekly, Lucie Peart, said ACM has advised her members that the North Richmond site will close by June 30.
She said details on the Tamworth site were unclear as individual publishers have separate arrangements.
She said this type of disruption and print house closure is having a significant impact on regional newspapers, and thereby regional communities.
“Members have received communications from ACM. It has been a bit fluid and it is a bit individual, but I am currently aware that those plants will close by the end of June,” Peart told Sprinter.
The impending closure of the former Rural Press headquarters means regional newspaper publishers must now turn to other newspaper printers for their printing with Spotpress in Sydney and McPherson Media Group, the likely options.
IVE Group are also in the mix after the company signed a five-year deal to print and distribute publications published and managed by ACM. This also included IVE’s acquisition of ACM’s Western Australian printing operation in Mandurah.
Last year, Sprinter reported on the rise of regional newspapers after News Ltd pulled the pin on print with hundreds of mastheads published in a digital-only format.
Peart said there are issues with finding other printers as many of the regional newspapers have similar deadlines which makes it hard to find room for them on a press, especially considering they are usually quite short runs.
“The difficulty is that with smaller print runs, we are obviously not as attractive to a bigger press site but as a collective, Country Press NSW, is working hard to find a solution to that problem,” she said.
Collective solution needed
These factors have prompted Peart and other regional newspaper publishers to work together and find a collective solution for their print woes.
“As a group we are looking for a sustainable option that can help members and the industry going forward and allow smaller publishers to begin and other independent publishers to expand and give them confidence in the printing side because we obviously don’t believe that print is dead,” Peart told Sprinter.
“At this stage we don’t have any solid plans around that and that could mean a number of directions we may take.”
Country Press NSW currently represents 28 regional newspaper mastheads but this number is growing year on year. This number was over 100 before Fairfax pulled out in 2016.
Research also shows locals in country towns would prefer a printed product.
2021 Local Newspaper Audience Survey
A 2021 Local Newspaper Audience Survey titled Media Innovation and the civic future of Australia’s country press surveyed nearly 4,200 Australians. It was conducted by Deakin University, RMIT and Country Press Australia last November found there is continued strong demand and passion for the printed product in rural and regional Australia.
It also found audiences overwhelmingly view a printed copy of their newspaper as an essential service for their community.
It also showed that while younger local news readers were leading the shift towards reading news online, country readers overall were 2.6 times as likely to read their local paper in print, than in digital format.
Another key finding was that audiences believe local regional newspapers should be collaboratively funded by a range of relevant stakeholders to ensure their future.
Peart said this research overwhelmingly supports the importance of printed regional newspapers.
“That really backs up where we are going as it shows that our local audience are saying ‘we prefer to get our information from a printed newspaper’,” Peart said.
“Digital take-up across the board with our members during COVID wasn’t extreme – it just isn’t quite there. The bush is different to the city and we are just looking as a collective to promote this but I feel like the past year has really started to give us some sort of visibility on the broader scale.”
Newsprint shortage woes
The other issue for regional newspapers in sourcing newsprint.
Peart prints hers two newspapers on sheets, not rolls, but said it is becoming increasingly difficult and more expensive to access paper.
“This is becoming more of a problem, especially for us as we print cut sheet and are not web press so that is becoming an issue. There are challenges with milling and changes within the industry,” she said.
“Some of this may be exacerbated by COVID and it is something that effects me but I am not privy to why this is. Price is also increasing but this happens every 12 months or so. I know in the past we have had rises of up to five per cent.”
Comment below to have your say on this story.
If you have a news story or tip-off, get in touch at [email protected]
Sign up to the Sprinter newsletter