News Corp’s decision to stop printing over 100 regional and community newspapers has created fertile soil for the launch of new newspapers with two new publications now in print in northern NSW and more on the horizon.
The Northern Rivers Times and Richmond River Independent are both now in their second week of print and are the forerunners in a growing national trend as locals demand their own printed news source.
So far, Spotpress and Australian Community Media at North Richmond have gained the work that has popped up as a result of News Corp Australia’s shift to digital in regional areas.
Start of a new trend
Spotpress managing director John Georgantzakos said several new local papers are now preparing to launch, mainly in northern NSW and Queensland.
He admits its a tough game but with a commitment to provide hyper-local news stories and the achievement of 50 per cent of content as advertising it is possible to succeed.
“These are very challenging times and we often find ourselves questioning about what the future of the printed community newspaper is going to be in five and 10 years from now,” Georgantzakos told Sprinter.
“We always arrive at the same conclusion that print community newspapers have a great future and can be highly profitable for the skilled publisher that is prepared to put in the hard work.”
Spotpress previously owned a number of suburban and regional titles including the Western Weekender and the Newcastle Post but now prints dozens of regional newspapers as a contract printer, mostly weeklies, on its dedicated newspaper presses and ships them across the eastern seaboard.
“We were successful in significantly growing the revenue of our own mastheads in a relatively short period of time. Today, we enjoy the role of print manufacturer, business advisor and digital strategist,” Georgantzakos said.
On the positive side, Georgantzakos said Spotpress is seeing a steady growth trend of around 10 per cent per month in the newspaper print volumes of its clients since April.
One door closes, another opens
The Northern Rivers Times is a 64-page weekly newspaper with a circulation of 15,000. It covers news and affairs related to the areas between Grafton and Tweed Heads and inland to Bonalbo.
The Richmond River Independent is more tightly focused on the Kyogle and Richmond Valley area and has a circulation of 10,000. It was borne when News Corp pulled the pin completely on the 150-year-old Richmond River Express Examiner, opting to not publish the newspaper in any form at all.
Locals were so angered by this decision that they banded together and created a not-for-profit organisation to run the newspaper and hired former Richmond River Express Examiner editor Susanna Freymark to bring the newspaper together.
This business set up means the paper is actually owned by the community and can’t be sold again. When Freymark decides to retire, the paper will remain.
“ACM at North Richmond are doing a fabulous job. I tried desperately to get a local printer to do it because I wanted to keep the money local but no one was printing in the A3 size,” Freymark told Sprinter.
“We are doing 10,000 copies and a 24 pages but we will eventually move to 32 pages.
“The newspaper is set up as a not-for-profit so it is a community association so the community own it and it can never be sold again. I love being a country newspaper editor but I am doing lots of things I wouldn’t normally do like talk to printers.
“There is a committee of eight that do a lot of work behind the scenes including running a fundraising campaign. We have had a lot of support because people they really love their newspaper here.”
The decision to add a newspaper was not such a big stretch for the publishers of The Northern Rivers Times as the company, Heartland Media, had already been publishing a monthly magazine, Heartland, for the past four years.
Heartland Media director Jeff Gibbs told Sprinter his pre-existing relationship with Spotpress meant this was the natural place to go for printing requirements.
The first edition was 80 pages but Gibbs said it would most likely regularly sit at 64 pages, unless there were some special events happening that required extra coverage.
“We decided six weeks prior to launch that paper quality was something we really needed to get right,” Gibbs told Sprinter.
“I had Spotpress send us up a lot of samples and we eventually decided on a white stock which gives a much better feel. The reason we chose that is I wanted the advertisers photos to be nice and glossy and to actually show up. On newsprint they can blur and fade.”
Gibbs then employed 15 mostly former News Corp journalists to gather the stories to cover the broad distribution of the paper.
Having a physical printed newspaper in regional areas is absolutely crucial, Gibbs said, adding the internet can be very patchy or virtually non-existent in some locations.
The formula appears to be working with advertisers showing very strong interest in using the publication to sell their wares.
“I don’t know why you would go to digital in this area,” Gibbs said.
“In metropolitan areas I would say yes but we just see a need for a printed product.
“The minute we announced it we had all the advertisers ring us up. Even now the phone is ringing hot, they are just constantly ringing us. We have got sales people out there but we’ve had people coming in and sign up for 12 months, 18 months and even two years.
“It’s been unreal. This is really good for us as it gives us a great projection on what we can do and the future is concreted now.”
News Corp stops presses
The concept of the newspaper was borne when News Corp announced in May that it would stop printing 100 of its community newspapers with many being published in a digital-only format and some being retired completely.
The regional NSW titles that shifted to digital-only include: Tweed Daily News, Ballina Advocate, Byron Shire News, Coffs Coast Advocate, Grafton Daily Examiner and Lismore Northern Star. While Coastal Views, Northern Rivers Echo and the Richmond River Express Examiner were completely shutdown.
News Corp is working towards merging two of its south east Queensland print operations into one.
News Corp has also recently announced it plans to launch more than 50 digital-only news sites for regional Australia, with 15 expected to be up and running by the end of September.
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