News Corp Australia has notified a number of newsagents across regional Queensland that it will stop delivering its titles to them from late September, due to the “very high cost” of distribution.
- News Corp will cease distributing its titles to “certain parts of regional Queensland” at the end of September
- Regional centres, including Mount Isa and Longreach, will be affected
- Newsagents say the move could have a significant impact on the mental health of older people
News Corp wrote to select newsagents last Thursday, informing them it would no longer provide physical copies of eight mastheads, including The Courier-Mail, The Australian and The Daily Telegraph, after September 26.
The ABC understands distribution will cease to towns further west than Charters Towers in the north, Emerald in central Queensland and in some parts of the state’s south-west.
The move leaves a large swathe of Queenslanders without access to a daily newspaper covering state, national and international affairs.
In the letter seen by the ABC, News Corp Australia said its decision was based on “the very high cost to distribute to your region, in the context of how people access their news today, [which] makes its continuation unsustainable”.
‘Nail in the coffin’ for regions
Doug Winterbotham has owned his newsagency in Longreach for more than 37 years.
In that time, he’s seen smaller newspapers fold and titles stop printing in favour of a digital-only presence, but said News Corp’s latest decision came out of the blue.
“It’s another nail in the coffin in the west.
“They don’t care about us west of the [Great Dividing Range].”
Across the road, at Longreach’s second newsagency, Rob Luck said the move demonstrated News Corp’s focus on its bottom dollar at the expense of people’s wellbeing.
“We have a responsibility to service the public,” Mr Luck said.
“We work our businesses, obviously, to make profits, but also to meet the needs of our communities.
“That’s the thing I think News Corp is missing.
Decision feels like ‘discrimination’
Peta MacRae, who owns a newsagency in Mount Isa, which has a population of 20,000 people, said News Corp’s decision felt like discrimination towards outback communities..
“It obviously does cost a lot of money to distribute papers and readership is down,” Mrs MacRae said.
“But really they are still printing them, and they’re printing them for people in urban areas, so it is like a little bit of discrimination as well.”
Mr Luck said the decision was ruthless.
“The hardest thing to accept [is] when you’ve been working with an organisation as part of your business for 26 years, you receive an email out of the blue, it’s never been discussed, it’s never had a comment in the wind about it.
Concern for older generation
In a statement to the ABC, News Corp said:
“We are following our audience — and our advertisers — to where they consume news and information, allowing our news coverage to be more immediate and focused on our communities. While our changes in western Queensland represent about 1 per cent of state newspaper sales, the true value of a newspaper is in the news, not the paper it’s printed on.”
Ms MacRae said the suggestion that readers would simply switch to accessing news online wasn’t viable for less tech-savvy elderly residents.
“Not for the people that come into our shop, no,” Mrs MacRae said.
Mr Luck said not only would it impact on older people’s access to news, but their mental health too.
“I do worry about the older demographics in our areas where those people rely on the ability to get downtown, to talk, to meet, to come into your shop and enjoy that experience of getting their daily paper,” he said.
Younger locals are now worried the gap might lead older generations to less reputable online news sources.
“I’m worried maybe that people are going to turn to [Facebook] for their news and you can see how much rubbish is out there on those online groups,” Longreach resident Ben Galea said.
American expat Isabel Coppo said she was concerned it could lead to a spread of “fake news”.
“Being an American, I’ve seen firsthand how damaging it can be when people can get their news only online,” Ms Coppo said.
“When you take that away, it opens up a can of worms, and we’ve seen where that can lead.”
Federal Member for Maranoa David Littleproud accused News Corp of treating remote Queenslanders like “second-class citizens”.
“This just shows a level of discrimination just because of your postcode,” Mr Littleproud said.
“They’re valuing the livelihoods and the abilities and the amenities of a person living in a capital city above that of [someone] living in regional, rural and remote Queensland.”
Mr Littleproud said he would contact News Corp Australasia’s executive chairman Michael Miller about the issue.
He also said he would raise it with his Cabinet colleague, Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, who declined to comment for this story.