30 May 2019

RiotACT to stay free as Canberra Times announces paywall

| Ian Bushnell
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The Canberra Times

Going behind a paywall will be a test of loyalty for The Canberra Times. Photo: George Tsotsos.

Region Media, publishers of RiotACT and About Regional, has moved to reassure readers that content on all its sites will remain free, with news that the long-awaited Canberra Times paywall is about to go up.

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.

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 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 advertising or 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, RiotACT and 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 (ACM) network of more than 150 local news websites and newspapers from Nine in a $125 million deal.

It had long been mooted but uncertainty around the fate of ACM and The Canberra Times, part of Fairfax Media before its sale to Nine, had delayed the change.

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 RiotACT in December when Nine ‘merged’ with Fairfax that the immediate result from a paywall would be a fall in audience numbers that would impact advertising revenue, and it would remain to be seen whether they could be rebuilt.

“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.

There are suggestions that Mr Catalano wants to have a strong focus on national politics but his only indication has been to say that he aims to strengthen the identity of the paper as a “highly regarded political commentator”. “It will be carving out its own niche…there is no other singularly focused paper on politics,” Mr Catalano said last month.

The Canberra Times can be skewed heavily to federal politics and some local Canberra issues.”

This strategy has been attempted before, most notably under Michelle Grattan, but ended in failure and her dismissal as editor.

This has always been a balancing act for The Canberra Times but Region Media’s focus remains firmly on the Canberra region.

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I have never been to the RIOTACT website until Canberra Times recently charged to view news online. My new source for news! 🙂 its a good opportunity for RIOTACT to gain market share if you focus more on news.

I was overseas when the paywall was put up and discovered the content offered was NOT Canberra news, which is what I wanted but articles from the rest of the conglomerate – mainly NSW. I was shocked. At home I buy a printed copy once a week for the TV Guide. If that was incorporated with online access for the $3 a week I would not mind so much. but I only want Canberra news. So much for “Serving the Nations Capital and through it the Nation”, now it reads “To Serve the National City”. To serve it What I ask!

Capital Retro10:09 am 08 Jun 19

There is an undeniable mindset connection between the Fairfax and ABC people.

Witness the unbridled self-promotion in the printed Canberra Times this week; exactly the same as we get on ABC TV and radio.

It’s all about “us” you know. Stuff the viewer/reader/listener.

Fairfax doesn’t own the Canberra times anymore. Next theory?

Ever since they cancelled the app the online format has been awful; all over the place like a mad person’s breakfast. The printed format is good so the coffee shop copy will be my go to. The quality and diversity of content is not what it once was but most papers have been dumbed down anyway.

HiddenDragon6:59 pm 30 May 19

With Canberra so clearly a one (and a bit) political party town, there’s probably a safer path for the CT in aiming more at the 40%, or so, who don’t vote Labor/Green – noting that the majority tend to get what they want from other sources.

In the process, and with the benefit of an ownership healthily distant from ‘The Bubble’, the CT could make a useful contribution to keeping acountable a Territory government which too often seems to think that democracy is something which only happens every four years.

Someonesmother4:42 pm 30 May 19

Well that will be the end of CT for me. It has been appalling since they changed the layout anyway.

The layout changed because they have been sold off.

I can understand why they are doing this as online news must really hurt their sales.

But I have found that even the ABC online news commonly has stories about news events in Canberra up on their site before they appear on the CT website.

CT has provided a substandard product for years.

There is no way I will pay for a substandard product when I can get a better one for free.

“CT has provided a substandard product for years.” Compared to what?
The Sydney Telegraph, or even the Australian?

Well yes. Don’t care much for the Tele but The Oz has a far more mature and sensible stable of columnists and writers than CT and the rest of Fairfax. Peter Van Onselen and David Speers couldn’t be described as right wing. The Oz doesn’t have characters like Fitzsimmons, Forde and the other unmentionables of the foul language brigade, all of whom come from a left-biased SMH, CT, Age etc.

With 49 years in the ACT I concluded long ago The Canberra Times to be provincial and parochial, favouring the left side of politics, cannot be considered impartial. As in the recent Federal Election campaign plenty of puff pieces about Labor and associated identities without an equivalent and like so many across Australia taking a Labor victory for granted.
If a relative nobody like me can read the signs of a Labor defeat twelve months ago why couldn’t the majority?

CT isn’t keen to publish the views of readers who take too hard a line opposite to what the CT and many of it’s habitual and insufferable letter contributors follow. So I ceased writing letters to the editor a few years ago. Nowadays I browse the headlines over a Lavazza and leave it at that. Haven’t bought a hard copy for years. Certainly won’t be subscribing to the e publication.

I find so many letter writers are anti this, anti that, they are very conservative and have difficulty handling change. Pages full of the anti light rail for instance, and they are still at it, even though the tram is up and running.

Interesting that you mention the Light Rail. I see here on RiotAct that it had its first major failure today: https://the-riotact.com/havoc-on-light-rail-route-as-technical-issues-cause-delays/305130

Now that would be a story that would seem to be of interest to people in Canberra, but strangely I can’t see it on the Canberra Times website. At least not on my phone. Perhaps it is hidden somewhere not in obvious sight.

Or perhaps just an example of a very poor local news service?

I see the CT finally reported on the Light Rail issue.


It looks as though their article was posted at 1:32pm, nearly 5 hours after the incident began.

That is a great example of why the CT sux. Ignoring any issues about whether its reporting is balanced, the CT is slow. That can be a good thing if they are taking the time to ensure their research is accurate, but this would just seem to be a case of lethargy.

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