By Joel Fitzgibbon
17 June 2020
The effects of Covid 19 have been many and varied. No one has escaped its impact. The most tragic consequence has been loss of life and the impact on loved ones. But the economic damage has also been distressing for too many.
We are almost certainly through the health-threat but sadly, the economic consequences will be with us for some time to come. How long will depend on the effectiveness of government responses, both here and overseas.
Few have been hit harder than our small-to-medium sized businesses. Our pubs, clubs, restaurants, tourism attractions and retailers to name just a few. Another devastating blow has been the loss of our local newspapers. Our local papers, the Singleton Argus, the Muswellbrook Chronicle, the Maitland Mercury, the Hunter Valley News and the Scone Advocate are all owned and operated by Australian Community Media and although they are still delivering content online, they disappeared from the view of most residents many weeks ago.
Our local papers are a crucial part of our local communities. Thanks to them, we know what is happening within Council and our local economy. They tell us about our local achievers in sport, culture and academia. We read about our volunteers and local acts of charity. More sombrely, our local papers tell us when someone we know has sadly passed.
Our local papers also create local jobs, directly and indirectly. They are the training ground for regional journalists, many of whom make their way to the national stage.
Sadly, the threat to our local papers didn’t begin with Covid 19. Long before then, the internet and the technology it enables began to challenge the model which has served us well for so long. Exacerbating the impact has been the big global giants who effectively steal the work of our quality local journalists without paying any of the costs.
We can’t fight technology, nor should we try. But it’s up to government to deliver a level playing field and it hasn’t done so. Big players have been profiting from the work of the smaller players. If we are to have any hope of seeing a return of the papers we’ve lost, the regulatory regime – or the lack of one – will need to be addressed.
In the meantime, the Hunter River Times will keep us informed. Those behind the paper are acting not in search of financial reward but rather, out of their commitment to the community. I know that like us, they hope the Argus makes a comeback.