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News Corp kills off free print Messenger, 100 titles in digital-first purge

Media and marketing

News Corp has officially killed off its free Messenger community newspapers in South Australia, which will now only be available online behind a paid subscriber paywall as part of a national digital push that will axe more than 100 print titles and an undisclosed number of jobs across the nation.

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Announcing its digital-first purge today, News Corp said that Messenger titles – City, Adelaide Hills, Messenger South Plus, Messenger East Plus, Messenger North, Messenger West and Upper Spencer Gulf – will continue as online-only publications, while its Messenger Coast Plus edition will shut down.

News Corp Australasia executive chairman Michael Miller announced the restructuring of its community and regional network across Australia in an email to staff today.

“We will streamline our community titles and will publish local stories under their regional or city-based masthead,” Miller said.

“Some small print newspapers will cease publication, but the local journalism coverage of their area will continue, feeding into the digital masthead for their regional community.”

The online-only editions for current print publications are scheduled to begin on June 29.

Miller also said that main News Corp SA title The Advertiser – along with stablemates the Herald Sun, Daily Telegraph and Courier-Mail – would “now become more state focused with increased regional content and will partner with our regional and community local titles in their states to ensure we deliver compelling journalism to Australian consumers regardless of where they live”.

“Subscribers wherever they live will now have access to the best of News Corp’s local, regional, state, national and international news, sport, features and columnists,” he said.

Miller said that the restructuring would lead to some job losses, but gave no details except to say more than 375 journalists would continue to cover community and regional news, “with the majority in regional Queensland where we have most of our titles”.

InDaily asked News Corp to confirm reports about 500 jobs nationally could be lost, and if SA was targeted for redundancies, but received no response before publication.

SA Messenger titles, along with more than 50 other community mastheads across Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, moved online on April 9, with News Corp blaming a sharp decline in advertising revenue, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis.

Messenger then offered readers a four-week free subscription, before most news content went behind the News Corp paywall.

A News Corp bid to sell its regional and community titles including Messenger to Antony Catalano’s Australian Community Media (ACM) failed earlier this month, with News Corp announcing on May 12 it would now examine”alternative structures” for its Australian newspaper group, with a focus on “maximising digital and growth opportunities”.

Messenger has provided suburban news in Adelaide for almost 60 years and has been a valuable training ground for generations of South Australian reporters, but News Corp cuts over the past decade have seen titles, staff and distribution progressively reduced, suburban offices closed and production centralised.

In March last year, News Corp approached four north-eastern Adelaide councils in March requesting significant investment – totalling at least $1.6 million over two years – in order to keep a local Messenger print publication afloat.

News Corp’s community news focus has shifted in recent years to single-journalist digital-only titles collectively referred to as “hyper local”, designed to drive online traffic and subscriptions – in contrast to Messenger’s free model, which was traditionally built on wide print distribution.

Miller said News Corp had launched 16 new digital-only mastheads in the past 19 months, including the Adelaide Hills and the Upper Spencer Gulf titles.

“In total we will now publish 92 digital only regional and community mastheads, each offering readers rolling coverage, electronic alerts and newsletters, richer audio and video content and deeper local sport coverage and community debate,” he said.

The latest job cuts and restructuring come after News Corp earlier in May announced a $US1 billion ($A1.5 billion) loss in the March quarter after taking a $US1.1 billion ($A1.7 billion) impairment charge against its Foxtel and News America Marketing assets.

Miller today said that a review of its Australian print operations had concluded many titles were “unsustainable” due to a double whammy of COVID-19 and tech platforms not paying sufficiently for local news content.

“Despite the audiences of News Corp’s digital mastheads growing more than 60 per cent as Australians turned to trusted media sources during the peak of the recent COVID-19 lockdowns, print advertising spending which contributes the majority of our revenues, has accelerated its decline,” he said.

“Consequently, to meet these changing trends, we are reshaping News Corp Australia to focus on where consumers and businesses are moving and to strengthen our position as Australia’s leading digital news media company. This will involve employing more digital only journalists and making investments in digital advertising and marketing solutions for our partners.”

The media union said the masthead closures and job cuts “represent a huge loss for communities in regional and suburban Australia”.

“The closure of so many mastheads represents an immense blow to local communities and, coming off the back of hundreds of previous regional closures during this period, it underlines the seriousness of the crisis facing regional and local journalism,” MEAA chief executive Paul Murphy said.

The union was waiting for detail on how many jobs would be impacted, and planned to meet with staff.

List of News Corp publication changes: 

Major regional titles the Hobart Mercury, NT News, Cairns Post, Townsville Bulletin, Gold Coast Bulletin, Toowoomba Chronicle and Geelong Advertiser to continue to publish both print and online editions.

Community titles to cease publication:

South Australia – Messenger Coast Plus.

Victoria – Manningham, Preston, Diamond Valley, Heidelberg, Sunbury Macedon, Progress and Northcote; NewsLocal in NSW – Rouse Hill Times; Quest in Queensland – Northside Chronicle/Bayside Star, North-West News, South-East Advertiser, Southern Star, Bribie Weekly.

Titles to become digital only:

Messenger in SA – Messenger South Plus; Messenger East Plus, Messenger North, Messenger West, Messenger City, Adelaide Hills and Upper Spencer Gulf.

Melbourne Leader titles – Stonnington, Mornington Peninsula, Knox, Whitehorse, Monash, Northern, Whittlesea, Maroondah, Moorabbin, Mordialloc Chelsea, Moreland, Lilydale and Yarra Valley, Frankston, Bayside, Caulfield Port Phillip, Cranbourne, Greater Dandenong, Moonee Valley, Maribyrnong, Wyndham.

NewsLocal in NSW and ACT – Fairfield Advance, Penrith Press, Macarthur Chronicle, Blacktown Advocate, Canterbury Bankstown Express, Central Coast Express, Hills Shire Times, Hornsby Advocate, Liverpool Leader, Manly Daily, Northern District Times, Parramatta Advertiser, Inner West Courier, Southern Courier, Illawarra Star, Wagga Wagga News, St George Shire Standard, Canberra Star, Newcastle News, Blue Mountains News, Central Sydney, South Coast News;

Quest in Queensland – Albert and Logan News, Caboolture Herald, Westside News, Pine Rivers Press, Redcliffe and Bayside Herald, South-West News, Wynnum Herald, North Lakes Times, Redlands Community News, Springfield News;

Queensland – Mackay Daily Mercury, Rockhampton Morning Bulletin, Gladstone Observer, Bundaberg News Mail, Fraser Coast Chronicle, Gympie Times, Sunshine Coast Daily, Queensland Times, Warwick Daily News, Central and North Burnett Times, Central Queensland News, Chinchilla News, Dalby Herald. Gatton Star, Noosa News, South Burnett Times, Stanthorpe Border Post, Western Star, Western Times, Whitsunday Times, Whitsunday Coast Guardian and Bowen Independent, news from the towns covered by the Atherton Tablelander, Northern Miner, Post Douglas & Mossman Gazette and Burdekin Advocate will continue to appear, as it does currently, under the regional sections of the Cairns Post and Townsville Bulletin; NSW – Tweed Daily News, Ballina Advocate, Byron Shire News, Coffs Coast Advocate, Grafton Daily Examiner and Lismore Northern Star; Northern Territory – The Centralian Advocate.

Three Sydney community titles, Wentworth Courier, Mosman Daily and North Shore Times, which are distributed in the city’s most affluent suburbs, to resume print editions.

Regional titles to stop publication:

Queensland – Buderim Chronicle, Caloundra Weekly, Capricorn Coast Mirror, Coolum News, Nambour Weekly, Ipswich Advertiser, Kawana/Maroochy Weekly, Gold Coast Sun, Hervey Bay Independent, Maryborough Herald, Balonne Beacon, Surat Basin News, Herbert River Express, Innisfail Advocate, Central Telegraph; NSW – Coastal Views, Northern Rivers Echo, Richmond River Express Examiner; Tasmania – Tasmanian Country; Specialist – Big Rigs, Rural Weekly, Seniors

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