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Anger over snap closure of SA newspapers

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Country Press SA and the journalists’ union have both expressed shock at the sudden and unexpected closure of South Australia’s largest and arguably most significant regional newspaper and two other related titles in the South-East.

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The board of The Border Watch Newsgroup announced yesterday on Facebook that the Mt Gambier newspaper, The Border Watch, would close on Friday, along with 74-year-old  The Pennant, based in Penola, and the 129-year-old South Eastern Times, based in Millicent.

The body representing the state’s independent regional newspapers, Country Press SA, is questioning why the titles weren’t offered for sale on the open market, while the MEAA – the union representing journalists – is angry,  asking why the company hasn’t provided any information about efforts to keep the newspapers going.

The 159-year-old Border Watch has been owned by the Scott Group of Companies since 1977, serving South Australia’s biggest city outside of the Adelaide greater metropolitan area.

The newspaper’s directors said the closure was due to declining advertising and readership revenues, with 38 staff to lose their jobs.

It’s the latest blow to regional journalism in SA, with Australian Community Media shuttering a range of titles across the state, with the future of many remaining in limbo.

Country Press SA president Darren Robinson, co-director of the Barossa newspaper, The Leader, said The Border Watch was consistently judged as one of the best regional titles in SA and the closure had left him shocked and saddened.

He expressed surprise that the owners had not offered the titles for sale.

“Did they have the tenacity and willingness to adapt and to invest in it?” he asked.

“I’m disappointed they didn’t list it (for sale) on the open market. Three days’ notice for their readers and advertisers is extraordinarily disappointing.”

The MEAA’s South Australian regional director, Angelique Ivanica, said “it’s extremely disappointing that there is no detail on the efforts that should have been made to keep the mastheads going”.

“Giving staff and local communities just three days’ notice is insulting to loyal workers and readers alike,” she said.

Robinson said the newspaper’s closure would be a great loss for regional journalism, which was struggling due to a fall-off in advertising and increased competition in the digital realm – both of which were reasons for the closure cited by The Border Watch’s management.

“Editorially, they were the strongest (regional) paper in SA. Editorially, you can’t fault what they are doing. Their independent journalism has been recognised for years as the best in SA.”

Ivanica said the Federal Government had to step in with more financial support for regional journalism, with the South-East community now left with a huge hole in local coverage during a pandemic that affects them deeply.

News Corp has been entering the field more aggressively in South Australia and other states, with a growing number of digital-only regional titles typically staffed by one, relatively junior, journalist. These titles in SA don’t yet cover the South-East.

The paywalled sites are populated with some local reportage and syndicated material from bigger News Corp titles.

Robinson said the media giant doesn’t “have skin in the game” in local communities and the regional titles weren’t a substitute for full-service local newspapers.

“People might think that this is a wonderful replacement, but it’s not,” he said.

InDaily has contacted the general manager of The Border Watch Newsgroup, Dennis Jackson, for his response.

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