Readers of at least 16 regional papers stretching from Charleville to the Whitsundays will now need to pay for a digital subscription to The Courier-Mail to continue accessing news produced by the mastheads.
They include the 154-year-old Gympie Times, whose masthead now only has a small presence below the dominant Courier-Mail title.
Regular readers were confronted this week with the message that their local paper was being brought “under the umbrella of The Courier-Mail”.
The news, immediately condemned by local community leaders, follows News Corp’s move to suspend printing of most regional newspapers in Queensland last year, closing some outright.
Titles in NSW and South Australia have followed suit. The remaining stand-alone Queensland regional mastheads in the News Corp stable include the Gold Coast Bulletin, the Townsville Bulletin, the Cairns Post, the Toowoomba Chronicle and the Sunshine Coast Daily.
A News Corp spokesman described the development as an investment in “world-class, hyperlocal news technology”.
The company is promoting the change as a move to “targeted, more user-friendly content”.
“Whether you’re in Gympie or Grafton, Byron or Bundaberg, you’ll be able to tune in to the latest news locally or from across the network to follow what’s happening in your community,” News Corp chief executive Michael Miller said last month.
On Thursday under the “hyperlocal” banner, The Courier-Mail website was running lists of every local business that had gone into liquidation over the past year.
Local Government Association of Queensland president, Sunshine Coast Mayor Mark Jamieson, said the ongoing withdrawal of mainstream media from regional Queensland was a “bitter pill” for affected communities.
“It also makes it that little bit tougher for regional voices to be heard in our cities,” he said.
“New platforms appear but it is a tough landscape for them to become established, let alone turn a profit.”
He said the LGAQ celebrated the best in regional journalism each year with the $15,000 Bean, Lockyer & Ticehurst Award.”
“As it happens, one of the stories that helped Caitlyn Gribbin from the ABC win last year’s award was her excellent reporting on the closure of a swathe of News Corp mastheads in Queensland,” he said.
Former Australian Competition and Consumer commission chair Alan Fels last year warned of “news deserts” spreading across the country, with about one third of councils having no local media coverage.
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