Last week saw hundreds of communities across Australia suffer yet another blow in a time of existing economic hardship and the existential threat of the COVID-19 virus.

This time it was the sound of printing presses in many towns and cities slowing and stopping as they produced the last-ever print copies of newspapers large and small, from dailies to weeklies which had served towns, districts and city suburbs for as long as 150 years.

For the large regional newspaper groups such as News Corp and Australian Community Media the economic and business model which had seen them snaffle portfolios of country and other newspaper titles in recent years has been unable to cope with the double-whammy of revenue loss to the social media giants such as Facebook, Google and others, plus the devastating social and economic effect of the coronavirus on the nation.

The big newspaper groups are putting their trust in a move to the digital sphere themselves to preserve their mastheads and – hopefully – the
loyalty and continued support of readers and local advertisers.

ACM decided two months ago to suspend print editions of most of its titles, maintaining only the print circulations of a select group of dailies.

The company also shut down four key regional printing centres in NSW where most of its country papers were printed.

News Corp also signalled its intention to cease Australia-wide regional and suburban newspaper printing operations in April and the last print editions rolled off the presses last week.

Most News Corp titles will reappear as on-line publications although about 14 papers have been closed for good.

The big question is: can a move to a digital presence re-establish a widely accepted ‘local’ community voice and a community forum?

It is natural that the surviving ‘big city’ media – radio, television and print dailies – have taken a keen interest in the massive close down of country papers.

The story they are reporting from the affected towns and communities is pretty much the same everywhere.

People are devastated that their local paper is no longer available.

Older people, particularly, have life-long associations with their local paper.

They have avidly followed the local news appearing in each issue, proudly clipping out and keeping appearances of children and relatives in photos and articles, looking forward to sporting news reports and community group news, taking great interest in weddings, births, and, of course, deaths and obituaries.

They looked to the advertisements for all manner of things: supermarket bargains, car sales, household and business offers, and when things were Lost and Found.

And, of course, when controversy and community debates emerged, they were able to air their opinions in a letter to the editor.

The ‘local’ offered access to all this and more. By turning a few pages it was possible to find the football competition results of the grandson’s team – the U7 Wombats, or checking out the latest development in a wrangle over a council planning decision, or looking at the details of the Smith-Jones wedding, or learning the date of the next garden club meeting.

The big players in regional media may have faced some difficult times but so too have many smaller, independently-owned local papers.

A great many of these have stuck to a business model that works.

They have always proudly been part of the community they serve.

They recognise the need to pay attention to the depth and diversity of community events and activity so that readers can have access to information about the council, business and community organisations, police news, schools, sporting clubs and more.

Readers want to see stories about local people and local history.

They want to be kept informed about the progress, potential and problems facing their town and district.

The Courier is an independent newspaper with a history spanning much more than 100 years. The Courier recognises that the support of readers and advertisers is the key to continuing to serve as a traditional country paper.

We intend to maintain that service and trust of readers. The Courier enjoys a steady increase in digital subscriptions but will maintain its role ‘principally in print.’

While we keep up to date with the technical side of newspaper production we also seek to provide a local newspaper that is welcomed into homes across the Shire and provides news and information of interest to people of all ages.

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