The recent News Corp announcement that more than 100 of its community and regional titles would cease print publication at the end of June has rattled many regional communities across Australia.
Even in the Barossa, consumers have raised the question as to if their community newspapers are safe from the fallout of COVID-19, which appears to have been a final nail in the coffin for many struggling print titles.
Independently owned by the Robinson family for more than 100 years, The Leader is not affected by the News Corp announcement, or by the temporary halting of the Australian Community Media presses.
Conversely, Country Press SA President and Director of Advertising Sales and Marketing at The Leader, Mr Darren Robinson says the pandemic has offered an opportunity for South Australia’s independently owned newspapers to show their strength.
“I think the independents are actually thriving not just surviving,” said Darren.
“It’s disappointing that a decision would be made (to close newspapers) purely on the back of COVID-19, when I think this virus, the pandemic, as harsh as it sounds, has actually created opportunities for us to sit back and review what we’re currently doing, to streamline our work even more.”
The Leader’s circulation has remained steady throughout the pandemic despite the notable loss of weekly sport reports, proving that even in a time of economic downturn, regional communities still value their local news.
“I think that a healthy community needs a healthy newspaper, just to create and stimulate that conversation, to foster that strong sense of community, to celebrate achievements, to get around people when they’re hurting, and get that story telling going,” said Darren.
Retired financial planner, Mr Peter Perkins has lived in the Barossa since 1991 and values the independent nature of the local newspaper.
“The ownership of regional papers by the big newspaper chains have treated the country communities with disdain by digitising,” Peter said.
“A lot of people will not buy a digital paper or subscribe and it’s a great loss to journalism.”
Peter said he would be “loathe” to subscribe to an online newspaper as he finds the print version easier to read.
Darren says print works when it represents good value.
“The consumer is more engaged when they sit down to read a newspaper,” said Darren.
“Holding a tangible copy provides an immersive experience that is hard to replicate.
“It’s different to scrolling your phone during a short break.”
It’s this philosophy that Guy Draper, Principal/Sales Consultant at Homburg Real Estate in Tanunda relies on when advertising in print, targeting “passive buyers” that may not actively be accessing online real estate sites.
“That’s where I see a newspaper, and advertising in The Leader hits the target, because that’s when people are grabbing the paper, sitting down, flicking through it on a Wednesday night,” he said.
“I guess the reason we continue to advertise, part of it is actually not just advertising property, it’s about advertising us to potential vendors as well. It keeps our profile out there and everything else.”
Colin Mills has operated the Nuriootpa Newsagency since 2002. In his observations, print news in regional communities is as popular as ever.
“We’re probably selling just as many newspapers now as we were back when we started. Home delivery has dropped off, but people seem to come in off the street and get it now,” he said.
“I’ve been all over the state, and everyone looks for their regional newspaper. There’s no doubt about that.”
With the closure, suspension or digitisation of many newspapers across the country, the threat of “news deserts” in regional communities is real and scary, says Darren.
“When we’re reporting on police news or council news, all of the stuff that matters to a local, we actually hold people to account. There is that sense of responsibility.
“Journalists take their work very seriously and that should be celebrated,” he said.
“We’re the ones that document all the historical information as well, if we’re gone, all of that is missed forever. The work that we do is incredibly important.”