SYDNEY, NSW, Australia - The largest publisher of newspapers in Australia, Rupert Murdoch's News Corp has closed 112 suburban and regional newspapers, most of them more than a century old.
The historic newspapers which have published consistently, reaching almost all of regional Australia, have been closed due to declining circulations and advertising.
Newspapers the world over have been shuttered. Country towns have been just as affected, particularly as populations in rural and mining communities have lost industry and population.
In the same towns where Mr Murdoch shuttered his newspapers, banks have also closed, and the retail sector has shrunk leaving many retail premises empty.
Nonetheless it is a crippling blow for people in regional Australia who are now left with just their local radio stations, although the bulk of these are now run by networks, as are the television stations.
News Corp sounded the death knell on 1 April when it suspended printing around sixty newspapers in suburbs of the major metropolitan cities, and in many regional areas.
Now they have been permanently closed, as have fifty-two more. 76 of the titles will retain a digital presence, but the other mastheads will disappear altogether.
Until Thursday News Corp operated two thirds of the newspapers sold in Australia. Many of those that have closed however do not fall under that bracket as the papers have been distributed free, most on a weekly basis.
Mr Murdoch's company according to some reports recently received a $50 million subsidy to keep the newspapers operating. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd who has waged a campaign against the Murdoch press after it played an instrumental role in undermining his government and in the loss of the 2013 Federal election, is highly critical of News Corp 's actions, news of which was revealed on Thursday together with an announcement that the company would be slashing jobs and streamlining costs at its metropolitan dailies.
"A black day for regional Australia. Murdoch systemically bought up hundreds of local/regional papers promising the world. Now, despite his $17.6BN family fortune, and a Morrison grant, Murdoch uses the COVID crisis to shut them all down," Mr Rudd said in a post on Twitter.
"Like most other things with Murdoch, when he says these titles will "become digital-only" or their coverage will be "streamlined" into broader regional papers, it is a LIE. This coverage will practically vanish. The proof is in the axing of 800 jobs, meaning that local news dies," the former Australian prime minister added.
"And what happens now to Murdoch's share of the $50M grant handed out by the Morrison government to keep these papers running? Why are taxpayers subsidising this American billionaire? And where is the outrage from the Libs & Nats, whom Murdoch backs in virtually every election?" Mr Rudd asked.
The Executive Chairman of News Corp Australasia, Michael Miller, noted a recent review highlighted that many regional and community print mastheads were challenged, hit by the double impact of COVID-19 and technology platforms not paying local publishers for content, had made them unsustainable.
"COVID-19 has impacted the sustainability of community and regional publishing. 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 Thursday.
"Consequently as a result of these changing trends, we need to reshape News Corp Australia to focus more on where consumers and businesses are moving and to strengthen our position as Australia's leading digital news media company for the future. This will involve employing more digital only journalists and making investments in digital advertising and marketing solutions for our partners."
The company did not disclose how many jobs will be lost.
Mr Miller said News Corp remained committed to Australia's regions and communities and as well as expanding digitally in the regions, the major state mastheads The Courier-Mail, The Daily Telegraph, Herald Sun and The Advertiser would increase their regional coverage and work closely with their regional and community digital sister sites.
"More than 375 journalists will be specifically covering regional and community news and information," Miller said.
"They will continue to serve, and live in, their local communities with the majority in regional Queensland where we have most of our titles."
"More than 640,000 Australians, our latest figures show, are currently subscribing to News Corp's digital news content and subscriptions are growing at an annual rate of 24 per cent. Much of this growth is from local news, where subscribers have more than doubled in the past year. In regional Queensland more than 80,000 people have digital subscriptions and this number has grown by more than 40 per cent this year," said the News Corp Australasia chief.
"I'm confident that these numbers will accelerate through dedicated and constant digital publishing and continuing to serve the local communities whose trust and community commitment the mastheads have developed over decades."
Three community titles in Sydney's most affluent suburbs, the Wentworth Courier, Mosman Daily and North Shore Times, will, resume print editions soon.
A small number of community titles in Victoria, NSW, Queensland and South Australia will cease publication as will a number of small, non-daily regional newspapers, mainly in Queensland and northern NSW, the News Corp statement said.
While Mr Murdoch's newspaper division was having a rough day Thursday, the broadcasting side of the business was celebrating a new and extended deal by the company's 75%-owned Foxtel locking up the rights to the National Rugby League (NRL) whose season began on Thursday. The new deal has seen a slashing of the originally agreed rights payments and a five year extension at the new lower rates, out to 2027.
"We have re-signed the deal with the NRL," Foxtel CEO Patrick Delany said late Thursday.
"It will go out now to 2027. That is an extraordinary eight years from now. What an amazing day it is."