By Eliza Berlage
Senior Journalist, Naracoorte Community News

South Australia’s south-east region continues to have one of the largest losses of media jobs and outlets in the country, a worrying trend for a highly populated and valuable area.

Between 2006 and 2016 the region recorded a 3.5 per cent decline in the number of journalism jobs, the third worst in Australia according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics.

A glance at the PIJI Newsroom Mapping Project shows this has worsened, with the recent closure of The Border Watch newspaper group, Southern Cross Austereo axing its SAFM Mount Gambier breakfast show and uncertainty around the future of local Australian Community Media (ACM) titles.

In May this year after ACM suspended the three local print titles – Naracoorte Herald, The Coastal Leader and The Border Chronicle – former business executive Michael Waite stepped up to fill the void with a new community newspaper, The News.

I joined the team after being stood down, along with my colleagues, from my reporter job at ACM title Wimmera-Mail Times in Victoria.

After working remotely for a few months, when the decision came up to return to ACM or stay with the new paper I chose the south-east.

Michael Waite’s model aims to put hiring and retaining journalists first and target the audience most willing to pay for news.

The News is a weekly print newspaper which appeals to the older, wealthier demographic of the area, who prefer newspapers as a medium. There is also a digital version available.

In the first month, The News was able to break even and the aim is to build the business into having a 3-5 per cent profit margin for its team of investors.

Advertising sales have steadily increased, as has circulation, with the paper selling almost double what Naracoorte Herald sold pre-pandemic.

In addition to having a single premium product in a wealthy local market, the paper has benefitted from using both a subscription and supporter model, similar to that used by community radio stations. This removes the need for businesses to place ads every week and provides a greater sense of “ownership” for the community.

Another key part of The News’ identity and relationship with community is the Give Back program, in which 25 cents from every paper sold goes to local organisation.

This model is being replicated across the country, thanks to an open source template by Mr Waite, as more newspapers close their doors or pivot to digital.

As the pandemic continues, local news is more important than ever, with PIJI research into the community value of public interest journalism, showing people saw media as more important during a health crisis.
However, South Australia also recently lost two Adelaide produced TV news shows, to be replaced with bulletins read out of Melbourne.

Another concerning element is where journalism skills go when jobs disappear. Stemming the flow of journalists to council and government is important for democracy because these communications roles involve producing news but instead of holding power to account, they are assisting it.

The News has a higher proportion of journalists to salespeople in the team. By encouraging the growth of the newsroom through actively finding mentors and recruiting other established local journalists, talent and experience can be retained both within the region and the wider industry.

  • Originally from Sydney, Eliza Berlage swapped the city for the country in pursuit of open spaces and strong community. She has been the senior journalist at Naracoorte Community News since May, working remotely due to the SA/Vic border closure. She has a background in sociology and has worked at the Walkley Foundation, 2ser, 2GB, AAP and spent two years in the press gallery in Canberra working for Michelle Grattan at The Conversation before moving to Horsham to be a reporter at the Wimmera Mail-Times. Her work has also been published by Meanjin, Crikey, Eureka Street, The Wire and Archer Magazine.
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