RiotACT to stay free as Canberra Times announces paywall

Ian Bushnell 30 May 2019 50
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.

What's Your Opinion?

Please login to post your comments, or connect with
50 Responses to RiotACT to stay free as Canberra Times announces paywall
JS2590 JS2590 5:11 am 13 Jun 19

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.

cmacra28 cmacra28 11:32 am 11 Jun 19

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 Retro Capital Retro 10:09 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.

    JC JC 7:05 pm 11 Jun 19

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

nothappyjan nothappyjan 11:31 pm 31 May 19

RIP Canberra Times. The recent online changes were enough to put many people off reading it, especially with the app gone. A paywall is the last nail in the coffin. Perhaps a few gov departments and businesses might pay up because they don’t really care and are lazy, but I imagine most savvy users will simply go elsewhere, like here, instead of paying for the dross now being published by the CT.

    JC JC 10:35 am 01 Jun 19

    FYI the recent changes were as a result of the Canberra Times being sold off by Nine (aka Fairfax). As a result they now cannot use the design and apps that were developed by Fairfax. They still have an agreement to source some news from Nine/Fairfax though.

    The hope would be that under the new owners the website and content can be improved.

    Capital Retro Capital Retro 12:52 pm 11 Jun 19

    We also “hope” the trams will run on time.

Bethany Williams Bethany Williams 12:50 pm 31 May 19

Thanks for staying free, Riot-ACT!

Vanda Catanzariti Vanda Catanzariti 12:23 pm 31 May 19

It's nothing like it was years ago!

Vindalu Vindalu 8:16 am 31 May 19

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.

Stuart Doyle Stuart Doyle 5:09 am 31 May 19

Thank God. That's a great reason never to read the CT again! Gees that paper has gone down hill over the years!

Jorge Garcia Jorge Garcia 10:53 pm 30 May 19

Do people really expect that any news agency can continue to operate on a no fee no subscription basis? How long can RIOTACT resist? not long I reckon....

Chris Miller Chris Miller 10:36 pm 30 May 19

Canberra desperately needs local news. I am very pleased that The RiotACT remains as a free voice for issues affecting our city.

    Elroy Jones Elroy Jones 11:53 pm 30 May 19

    Chris Miller wouldn’t you pay for real news rather than not knowing what’s been paid for? Pay walls are a reality

    Chris Miller Chris Miller 12:05 am 31 May 19

    Elroy Jones Yes, I would pay. My primary concern is that we have a genuine local publication. If CT introduced aggressive costs and that brings about their demise, we will be worse off as a result.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:59 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.

Terry Cooper Terry Cooper 5:30 pm 30 May 19

Wishing I didn’t have to pay to not watch the ABC either....

John Boland John Boland 5:19 pm 30 May 19

Lets be honest, who in their right mind will pay to to read CT? The RiotACT is where its at !!

Someonesmother Someonesmother 4:42 pm 30 May 19

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

Brent Hunter Brent Hunter 4:23 pm 30 May 19

Who even reads the CT anymore. It’s all nonsense

    Jeffrey Butler Jeffrey Butler 6:14 pm 30 May 19

    Brentles Hunna I only read it because it has the same stories as the SMH and The Age, and you could read articles that otherwise required a subscription. But this change will mean I no longer bother - not going to pay for something that has been free for over 20 years!!

    Margie Naylor Margie Naylor 10:53 pm 30 May 19

    Jeffrey Butler i I so agree!

    Ali Geez Ali Geez 11:43 am 31 May 19

    Jeffrey Butler it doesn’t have all the same free articles as smh and the age! Some articles are specific to their city so I haven’t been able to read those.

    Introducing paywalls means keeping up to date with local news that help create a community spirit is now no longer accessible.

David Murn David Murn 2:23 pm 30 May 19

So if they're adding a paywall, does that mean there will be no advertisements anymore? Or are they charging advertisers and then charging readers for the privillege of viewing the paid-for ads too?

Nic Danaher Nic Danaher 2:02 pm 30 May 19

No great loss

Gray Jay Gray Jay 1:19 pm 30 May 19

And I'll continue to not pay to not read it

Rob Lee Rob Lee 1:05 pm 30 May 19

They cancelled the app 😢

Mark Chapman Mark Chapman 12:46 pm 30 May 19

Given the CT's recent lurch to the Right, I won't be paying for access.

    Stuart Doyle Stuart Doyle 5:09 am 31 May 19

    Mark Chapman yep! Totally agree.

    Cathy Beckhouse Cathy Beckhouse 6:36 am 31 May 19

    Mark Chapman lurch to the right? Hardly!

    Mat Kenna Mat Kenna 7:39 am 31 May 19

    Lurch to the right? what did you put in your cocoa this morning?

    Malcolm Campbell Malcolm Campbell 5:01 pm 31 May 19

    Mark Chapman heres me thinking the whole country had lurched to the right

    Narelle Ford Narelle Ford 9:06 am 01 Jun 19

    Mark Chapman You are correct. Many others have commented about n the move to the right of the SMH which meant the CT went there too.

CBR Tweets

Sign up to our newsletter

Region Group Pty Ltd

Search across the site