Region Media, publishers of About Regional and RiotACT, has moved to reassure readers that content on all its sites will remain free, with news this week that the Canberra Times is moving behind a paywall.
The Times, which still publishes a pay-for-print edition, has announced that it is introducing subscription packages for online readers, and hoping that its audience will be willing to support its journalism.
In an online story headlined ‘Support the journalism serving the national city’ and accompanied by a promotional video, The Canberra Times says the new pay-for-view system will launch in early June, with subscription offers and prices to be announced in the coming days.
Regional publications in the same stable as the Times made the leap to subscriptions some time ago, including the Goulburn Post, Ulladulla Times, Bay Post, and Bega District News.
Region Media Co-CEO Michael McGoogan reaffirmed the company’s commitment to providing high-quality, entirely local content.
“We have a fundamental belief in the importance of locally owned and locally produced news,” he said.
“Region will continue to create the best local stories by hiring the best local journalists, like Genevieve Jacobs, Tim Gavel, Ian Bushnell, Ian Campbell and John Thistleton.
“We have one of the largest and fastest growing digital audiences in the Canberra region and we will continue to invest in a new content-driven business model not dependent on subscriptions.
“We can guarantee that there will never be a paywall, and that Region will continue to be a forum for vigorous public discussion.
“We are very proud to be part of this community and we’ll continue to invest in growing our mastheads to become the region’s leading source of quality local journalism.”
Region Media Group editor Genevieve Jacobs said that one of the group’s great strengths was the depth of local knowledge and networks shared by the editorial team.
“At a time when local media is fragmenting fast, Region Media is now almost unique in retaining highly experienced local journalists and growing new local talent.”
“This gives us an unparalleled connection with our own community, standing apart from the syndicated content models that are coming to dominate the major mastheads,” she said.
“I’ve always believed that local content and local knowledge matters most to this audience. The support we receive from the community gives Region the capacity to keep bringing the best stories to the place where we all live.”
The move to a paywall comes after The Canberra Times changed hands in April when Antony Catalano and Thorney Investments acquired the Australian Community Media network of more than 150 local news websites and newspapers from Nine in a $125 million deal.
After being free online for so long, the switch to a paid system will be a challenge in a culture unused to the subscription model. Media commentator Peter Cox told Region Media in December that any move to a paywall would result in a fall in audience numbers.
“You do reduce the number of people viewing your paper, so for advertisers that’s less people who are going to see them in the area they’re selling into, and because of that it’s a bit of a vicious circle as you continue the spiral downwards,” he said.
Assistant Professor in journalism at the University of Canberra, Dr Caroline Fisher said at the time that going behind a paywall was risky and a big test of loyalty.
“You’ve really got to offer really strong content, niche content that you can’t get anywhere else, and at the moment the amount of local coverage in The Canberra Times has been shrinking so if they are going to go behind a paywall they’re going to really want to offer a whole bunch of local Canberra content that we can’t get elsewhere,” she said.
But they will face stiff competition from free online providers in Region Media‘s increasingly popular sites, RiotACT and About Regional, and the ABC.
Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp is also entering the digital space with its Canberra Star site launching in June but it will likely also be behind a paywall.
Earlier this month Region Media launched a range of advertising and marketing packages tailored to local businesses and organisations keen to build a relationship with About Regional and its audience.
“Our ambition is to create and deepen the conversations that take place around the news, stories, and issues of towns and villages from Batemans Bay, to Eden, to Cooma, to Yass, and Goulburn,” Regional Director, Ian Campbell said.
“The business community is a big part of that and at this stage in our growth, it’s time we were more active in partnering with local family businesses, entrepreneurs, government agencies and corporate Australia.
“There are a range of price points to consider, but most importantly we want to talk. Local media is so important to the energy and prosperity of regional communities, how can we support each other to build lives and resilience here?
“Until now, About Regional has largely been supported by donations, goodwill, a lot of passion and volunteering, and in the last 12 months through the investment of Region Media, its time to broaden that base so we can grow and build deeper relationships with regional communities.”
Original Article published by Ian Bushnell on The RiotACT.