Grievance Debate: Regional Newspapers

Tuesday November 27, 2018

Mr BELL (Mount Gambier) (15:16): I would like to take this opportunity to speak about the importance of local newspapers to regional communities. I start each day reading the daily newspapers, including my local newspaper, the independently owned The Border Watch. As a politician, I might not like all the stories that are published, particularly when they are about me, but I respect the fact that news that affects our community is written and placed on public record.

It is true that regional newspapers are facing their toughest challenge yet, as digital platforms and social media erode traditional advertising streams and offer so-called 'free' news. Last week, I received a letter from Ian Osterman, the President of Country Press SA, the body that represents 14 of the state's independent regional newspapers, including The Border Watch.

The letter congratulated the South Australian government on introducing the Home Battery Scheme but made an important point. Country Press SA was perplexed as to why the state's many regional newspapers had not been part of the advertising schedule. Instead, full-page adverts have been placed in The Advertiser, the state's metropolitan paper.

There are around 400,000 people who live outside the City of Adelaide who depend on regional newspapers for their news. Country Press SA makes a very important point: we as a government need to support our regional media industry. In regional communities, newspapers have never been more relevant. Metropolitan papers simply cannot cover the variety of news required to keep a city the size of Mount Gambier informed about what is going on in our local community.

Not only does The Border Watch contain council and sporting news and what is happening in federal and state politics but it also reports on community events, such as social happenings, birth records, deaths, marriages, etc. The Border Watch is also part of the state's media history. It is South Australia's oldest country paper and was begun in 1861 by the groundbreaking Janet Laurie, Australia's first female newspaper editor and manager. For more than 150 years, the presses have rolled at the Commercial Street site as the editions of The Border Watch go to print, along with its sister publications, The South Eastern Times and Penola Pennant.

The Border Watch Newsgroup currently employs around 45 staff across its Mount Gambier and Millicent sites and across the years has employed thousands of local people. The Border Watch has won the Country Press SA's top regional newspaper award five times in the last 14 years.

Mr Ellis interjecting:

Mr BELL: That is the member for Narungga's electorate, but it is an important training ground for young journalists and offers school leavers the opportunity to build a career in the region they grew up in. Over 150 years, The Border Watch has reported on every event and happening, big and small, in the city of Mount Gambier and has played an important role in the direction of the city. It has been instrumental in significant community campaigns, giving a voice to issues and people who may not otherwise have been heard.

It would be hard to measure the true value of The Border Watch to Mount Gambier, but to lose it would be nothing short of a disaster for our local community. The community of Mount Gambier has been affected by media changes in recent years. In 2014, WIN Television closed down its Mount Gambier news bureau leaving The Border Watch and radio station ABC South East SA to take up the bulk of local news reporting. The Border Watch now provides local news headlines to WIN to ensure that the community still has a news presence on the local station.

It seems that every few months we hear about newsrooms shedding staff as the media adjusts and adapts yet again to changing demand for news content. Many regional newspapers run on a skeleton staff, with staff performing multiple jobs. As print circulation dwindles, many regional papers have launched e-editions. They have started Facebook pages and Instagram accounts, and they have been innovative in the way they deliver the news. The fact is that quality journalism costs money. Experienced journalists, who treat each story with editorial judgement, sensitivity and balance, do not work for free.

Independently owned newspapers are a crucial part of the media environment. If we want our regional newspapers to survive, we have to support them through this time of change. I call on the state government to make sure that their advertising budget extends to regional newspapers.