Handout or “leg-up”, regional newspaper publishers in Victoria, Australia have welcomed a commitment by the new state government to place a whole-page advertisement with every paper, every week.
The guarantee announcement by Victorian premier Daniel Andrews – recently re-elected for a third term – has been welcomed by regional publisher ACM and the Country Press Association.
ACM and the CPA – which together account for more than 320 regional newspapers – have jointly described the guarantee as “exactly the kind of support the sector needs”, saying it would provide certainty around revenue without the need for publishers to continually go cap-in-hand to governments for grants to support the vital service regional newspapers provide.
The two groups have strongly urged federal and other state governments to follow suit, and for opposition parties to commit to matching the move.
“As an industry, we want a leg up, not a handout,” Australian Community Media managing director Tony Kendall said. “Regional newspapers are essential to the communities they serve.”
But he said massive cost increases for newsprint were threatening these lifelines of information and connection. “Diverting a modest portion of an otherwise huge government advertising budget is an elegant way of helping newspapers overcome their challenges and stay in business.”
CPA president Andrew Manuel said it was time for real change to help an essential industry. “This would be a huge boost for the sector and for public interest journalism. Multiple federal inquiries have been held into regional media but no findings have been implemented or even discussed in a meaningful way.”
Announcing the move, Andrews (pictured) said: “Whether it is a bushfire, a flood emergency or a global pandemic, time and time again we have seen regional newspapers step up and serve their communities in incredibly important ways.”
Kendall and Manuel each acknowledged the federal government’s Public Interest News Gathering (PING) grants, which had helped the sector through the COVID pandemic and, most recently, provided emergency short-term relief after a huge jump in paper prices.
PING funding had been “the difference between survival and closure” for many regional newspapers, Andrew Manuel said. “We are extremely grateful for the short-term support, but deeper change is needed. We need all governments and political parties to recognise the importance of regional media and commit to preserving it.”
For ACM, Tony Kendall said publishers did not want to keep asking for grants: “Regional newspapers need a stable footing on which to build for their future success.
“It is all well and good to hold discussions and inquiries, but this need is urgent. If governments don’t move quickly to save regional newspapers, there will be far fewer of them to save.”