The media landscape in regional Australia seems barren with News Corp ceasing the print publication of 112 of its titles, including 38 in Queensland, and last week the ABC, a key source of trusted local news, announced it would be cutting 250 jobs.
But a handful of new newspapers plan to be circulating in the state within a month, all driven by local ventures.
The Longreach Leader, which has been servicing the central west for almost 100 years, will expand to print three more newspapers, said Andrew Stewart, the company’s newest board member.
“You are going to see the rise of independents who have had their heads kicked in for three decades, now independents have the opportunity to thrive, locally based publishers, publishing to their local communities and that means a lot,” Stewart said.
The Leader’s business entity the Longreach Printing Company Ltd will produce the Rural Leader, the Highland Leader, based in Emerald and the Callide-Dawson Leader out of Biloela.
After converting from a journalist to a successful publisher, Stewart’s company was bought out by the Packers in 2007 and he semi-retired to the south of France.
At 64 he’s returned to country Australia to grow local papers and feels 18 again.
“It’s wonderful, it’s where the real stories are, I really don’t need to know how big Kim Kardashian’s backside is – most people will say ‘oh that gets so much traffic’. Yeah, but people don’t take it seriously, it’s just a glance and a giggle.
“They really do want to know if school hours are changing, is the hospital outpatients open, this local identity has died, this woman has had triplets, the cattle sale is changing days,” he said.
Unlike many naysayers in the industry, he is certain there’s a thirst for locally relevant information, people are willing to pay to quench.
“The newspapers run by big corporate entities, a long way from their communities, is a broken model, newspapers run by people within their community is a viable model in partnership with the correct online strategy,” Stewart said.
The strategy is to provide basic local news online for free, provide the full story in the print edition and develop a trusted local searchable directory to generate turnover.
Central Queensland was chosen because of the lack of a local news service.
“The Facebook rant and misinformation creates huge problems for local councils, hospitals and all the rest because it’s just unchecked misinformation,” he said.
Stewart said they had been encouraged by local mayors who are happy to “cop a slap around the chops” to have a trusted local media source.
New local papers are not a Central Queensland curiosity.
Newsagencies along a stretch of the Warrego Highway between Oakey and Quilpie will soon be stocking the West Qld Echo.
“There are still plenty of people who want to have news about their community in their hands,” said publisher Petrus van Boven.
The 42-year-old is fully funding his startup but he has three generations of newspaper experience behind him.
His grandfather was a local news columnist in Holland, his father worked as a printing machinist and van Boven started his apprenticeship in design in 1994 and has worked for APN and the Toowoomba Chronicle.
“One hundred per cent the reason they (regional newspapers) pulled out is because their stock dipped and I know 100 per cent they were making money out of it,” he said.
He had originally planned to produce a paper where the content was community contributions but with plenty of journalists now looking for jobs, he’s planning to build a team of ten who will focus on the Chinchilla region, where he’s had the most interest, and immediately expand their scope east and west.
“You can’t just cut it (local news) off for regional people. I’m confident there is a market and an appetite,” van Boven said.Jump to next article