Coronavirus Australia: Economy shutters rural newspapers

Coronavirus Australia: Economy shutters rural newspapers

“The community response today has been overwhelming. They feel a great connection to our paper, it’s been a part of our lives for a long time so we hope to be back,” Mr Shields told The Age.

“We’ve been producing some amazing newspapers in the last few weeks as this crisis was upon us.

“At times like this, journalists really do step up and that’s what we’ve been seeing.”

Mr Shields said the closure of local businesses on Monday had an immediate impact on revenue.

“I suppose when all businesses were shut down, the advertisers pulled out as of Monday morning and the signs were there from that point on – that if you continue trading, you’re going to run into trouble very quickly,” he said.

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“So some tough decisions were made for the long-term survival of the business.”

Owners of the family-run company Elliott Newspaper Group intend to maintain an online presence of some form and return after the pandemic.

Separately, The Great Southern Star and Yarram Standard also announced they would shut indefinitely from Tuesday.

The Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance condemned the decision to close regional papers on Tuesday.

“The media is an essential service right now. Media outlets have a heightened responsibility to their communities. They provide a lifeline that binds a community together and bolsters resilience. Their local knowledge cannot be replaced by media outlets in the bigger cities,” MEAA media president Marcus Strom said.

Country Press Australia was already lobbying the Morrison government to release funds from the small and regional publishers innovation package, but has renewed the calls as publishers become burdened financially by the pandemic.

The available funds – estimated to be about $40 million – are part of the Regional and Small Publishers Jobs and Innovation Package.

Communications Minister Paul Fletcher is already considering a range of measures to help media organisations, including temporary relief of spectrum tax fees and temporary forbearance of content quotas by the Australian Communications and Media Authority. The fund for the regional and small publishers is managed by the ACMA.

With Zoe Samios

Rachel is a breaking news reporter for The Age.

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