News Corp’s decision to axe or digitalise more than 100 local and regional newspapers shocked some and seemed inevitable to others when the full list of titles was made public this morning, but it seems the decision could hit hardest for the elderly and remote communities who many fear will be left ‘disconnected’.
Though the global media powerhouse’s decision was met gladly by some online, who voiced their dislike of the company’s monopoly on regional and local print news, others expressed their concern that some groups could now be left out of the news loop altogether, as 112 newspapers stop printing and 36 close their doors.
Online, people are bemoaning the loss of the papers for the elderly and regional Aussies, who they say will be left behind in the dramatic move.
“My nan and pop don't have internet,” Twitter user Brittany Rigby wrote on the platform in reaction to the news.
My nan and pop don't have internet. They could never access news online, and desperately rely on their local, physical paper.— Brittney Rigby (@brittneyrigby) May 27, 2020
If it were axed, I'm not sure what they'd do. It was paused as part of ACM's suspension of non-daily titles, and they've felt unmoored, disconnected. https://t.co/n1zB6dmJAC
“They could never access news online, and desperately rely on their local, physical paper. If it were axed, I'm not sure what they'd do. It was paused as part of ACM's suspension of non-daily titles, and they've felt unmoored, disconnected.”
UNSW’s Dr David McKnight agrees, telling Yahoo Lifestyle the decision poses a serious issue for Aussie communities.
“It’s a betrayal of local communities and the hundreds of employees,” he says.
He claims the decision is proof of News Corp’s adherence to the bottom line above all else, pointing out that while readership has spiked by 60%, advertising revenue hasn’t matched it, a fact admitted by CEO Michael Miller in his announcement this morning.
“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,” Mr Miller said.
‘We don't get internet’: Why regional Aussies can’t move online
In reaction to the announcement today that many of the titles would be moving online, one regional reader pointed out that many remote Aussies faced a unique inability to access them.
“Who is going to read them?” they wondered. “We don't get internet in regional areas and people in cities don't have time to read about small-town news.”
“The idea you can just click on your smartphone for the news is laughable to many in regional Australia,” Twitter user Erin Delahunty tweeted.
“There will be many readers, mostly older, who simply won't switch to digital, especially behind a paywall,” another pointed out.
“A lot of Queensland is going to have no local newspaper now,” another wrote online in reaction to the news.
“These regional areas contain many older residents who won't be too fond of having to use an electronic device to read news, and may just give it up.”
It’s a fear backed by the studies, which have long warned reliable internet is not something every Aussie has at their fingertips.
A 2018 Digital Media Report by the University of Canberra found that internet, or lack therof, played a huge role in regional Aussies continuing reliance on traditional news sources.
“News consumers in regional areas rely more on offline platforms, particularly television news,” the report explained. “They also rely heavily on local and regional newspapers for news, almost twice as much as urban consumers.”
Elderly cut off from online news with one-quarter digitally challenged
The 2019 report by the university also reported that the elderly, those over 73 years of age, were similarly inclined to rely on local newspapers for information.
Almost 20% of those aged over 73 years old rely on print as their main source of news, and only 8% regularly use online news.
It’s no wonder given digital literacy among older Aussies is notoriously poor.
A 2018 survey of Australians above the age of 50 by the office of the eSafety Commissioner found that only 57% of Aussies aged 70 - 79 have access to a smartphone while only 35% of those over 80 have one.
Though desktops are always an option, the study also found that 26% of over-50’s have a low digital literacy level, and 8% are completely disengaged.
In other words, local newspaper moving online is local newspapers moving out of reach for many.
Local news ‘vital’ for Australian communities
It’s not just an inability to get online that has some concerned however, with local news long associated with community spirit and connection, particularly in rural Australia.
The local paper has been described as a ‘vital piece’ of regional community life by experts for years.
Back in 2014 The University of Adelaide’s Dr Katheryn Bowd explained that for remote and regional communities the paper is a powerful force of connection.
“The role of local media as a community connector also helps to provide communities with a sense of identity… connection people [and] empowering communities and building trust and mutuality,” she wrote.
It’s a sentiment echoed by those bemoaning the losses online.
“Neighbourhoods & communities need local journalists telling local stories - this what connects us,” a local Melbourne business wrote on Twitter.
“I fear who will keep councils accountable in the absence of talented fearless local journalists?”
“Local papers a huge loss. It’s part of community,” another agreed.
Dr McKnight also points out that there is a democratic need for local news to be publicised, and that the limited access to the new digital versions spells trouble for local communities.
“Local councils are very important institutions in a democracy, and they rely on local publications to tell people what’s happening… and they also need to be watched from a democratic point of view,” he says.
“There’s a chipping away at local democracy in a sense that communities need these local publications, and they need to be well read, to keep an eye on what happens in their local council.”
Some have argued however the closures could allow independent publications to flourish, something Dr McKnight tentatively agrees with.
“There might be some positive it may open the way for some small, existing non-profit community publications to step in,” he says.
“It may be possible with voluntary help and community spirit to advance a different, less commercial publication.”
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