The Canberra Times has been named as one of four Australian Community Media sites where printing is likely to cease permanently.
Print production last took place at Fyshwick in April. ACM announced then that operations would be paused for at least two months, at the same time as large numbers of regional newspapers were shelved until the end of June.
Employees associated with printing in Canberra, Murray Bridge, Wodonga and Tamworth were also stood down at the time. They were briefed on Wednesday about the proposed changes, which would end printing operations at four of ACM’s nine national printing sites.
ACM blamed economic challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic which, they said, had affected “not only our own business but many other publishers who utilised ACM’s nine print facilities around the country”.
“With the suspension of these external printing clients along with our own product stand-downs, ACM no longer has the volume of printing to warrant the number of print centres in its stable.”
The statement said that plans to close the printing plants would “remove a heavy cost burden and more importantly remove a capacity that is no longer required by our business”, resulting in what the company believes will be a more sustainable business model.
“The review is designed to ensure that our printing capacity meets the current needs of the business and is the prudent decision to ensure ACM’s ongoing success and its long-term objective of building on its position as Australia’s largest regional media publisher,” the statement said.
The Canberra Times was purchased by former Domain real estate boss Antony Catalano and Thorney Investments last year after the Nine group offloaded regional titles which it described as “non-core businesses”.
At the time, there was speculation that Catalano would be looking to leverage the real estate value of the sites included in the $115 million deal. That could include the current Fyshwick headquarters, valued at around $20 million at the time of the deal.
While the purpose-built premises have been almost deserted during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff numbers had already dropped significantly since the building’s heyday. If the printing presses are mothballed, the rationale for maintaining a large commercial building in a central location would further decline.
While the impact of the ACM closures has been felt widely across the capital region, they’re among many traditional media outlets being forced to make hard decisions about regional printing operations. News Corp Australia suspended its community news titles earlier in the month and Nine ceased printing several magazines.
While many of the paused ACM publications resumed this month, there’s no word on the future of many non-daily rural mastheads. Staff on smaller mastheads were told they were free to pursue other journalism opportunities during the shutdown.
ACM’s CEO Allen Williams told staff said that readers and advertisers were increasingly moving to digital, reducing the demand for print capacity and motivating the realignment of resources.
There are no details yet about proposed closing dates for individual sites.