The final edition of The Advertiser, Cessnock's trusted local community newspaper for more than 60 years, will be printed this week.
The rising cost of newsprint, production and distribution, together with a shift in advertiser spending, have brought publisher ACM to the unfortunate but unavoidable decision to permanently cease printing the paper.
The state and federal Labor governments could be helping to save papers like The Advertiser.
Instead, they have done nothing.
"This decision was not made lightly," ACM managing director Tony Kendall said.
"Unfortunately, the rising costs of newsprint and the shift of advertising spending to digital platforms has made the publication unprofitable."
While discontinuing the free weekly newspaper after its November 1 edition was not expected to result in job losses, with affected staff to be redeployed to other work within the ACM network, the impact on the community was regrettable.
"The Advertiser has been serving Cessnock and surrounding towns since 1960 and it has played an important role in telling the story of the area and its people," Mr Kendall said.
"But the distribution model of the free community newspaper is very difficult when the price of newsprint goes up by 80 per cent as it has in recent years," Mr Kendall said.
Dramatic declines in government advertising placed in regional newspapers has exacerbated the problem.
Despite Cessnock's status as one of the fastest-growing cities in NSW, with 14.5 per cent population growth in the five years to 2021, state and federal governments have steered their advertising budgets away from local newspapers in favour of foreign-owned, algorithm-driven digital platforms that don't employ regional journalists.
For example, advertising by the federal government across the regional newspaper sector plunged by more than 70 per cent in the 2022-2023 financial year.
In an open letter published in ACM's The Canberra Times in September and delivered directly to the Parliament House office of every federal MP and Senator, ACM and Country Press Australia, which represents hundreds of small country newspapers, urged the Albanese Labor government to guarantee that a fair share of the existing advertising budget of government departments would be devoted to regional newspapers.
"The local newspapers serving 36% of the population get next to 0% of the government's advertising spend ... regional Australia deserves better," the joint letter said.
Mr Kendall said regional cities and towns deserved trusted local news sources like The Advertiser and Cessnock voters "deserve to see a fair share of their hard-earned tax dollars flowing back to their community and the local paper they trust to keep them informed and connected".
Before the March NSW election, Labor criticised the former Coalition state government for allocating just 0.5 per cent of the state's $91 million advertising budget to regional print media in 2020-21.
Mr Kendall said papers like The Advertiser were yet to see any benefits flow from Labor's promise.
"We've been saying for some time now that regional newspapers don't need hand-outs because grants aren't going to help sustain your local paper, advertising is what is going to sustain your local paper," he said.
"This provides some revenue certainty but we also think advertising in the most trusted news medium in regional Australia is not a bad thing for governments to be doing."
Unfortunately, neither the state or federal Labor governments had acted in time to prevent the closure of The Advertiser.
"We are grateful to our loyal Cessnock readers and advertisers for their support, and to the hard-working and dedicated staff of The Advertiser who have helped tell the city's stories and promote its local traders over the decades," Mr Kendall said.
The Newcastle Herald, ACM's flagship daily newspaper and breaking-news website in the Hunter, would continue covering news and issues of regional significance, including Cessnock and the surrounding areas.
"The Herald very much remains the Voice of the Hunter and we are immensely proud of its news-breaking and agenda-setting journalism. We'd ask the Cessnock community to please support its trusted coverage of news that keeps the Hunter region strong."
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