News Corp this morning told its staff and the journalism union it plans to close seven papers in its local Leader Community Newspapers group by the end of the month.

The titles affected are the Melbourne Leader, the Berwick Leader, the Brimbank Leader, the Free Press Leader, the Hobsons Bay Leader, the Melton Leader and the Wynham Leader. Final deliveries of the papers will take place on July 1. A half-dozen — five to eight — redundancies are expected. The company has told staff it will redeploy some of them.

In a statement, a News Corp spokesperson said News Corp was continuing to “reshape its business to meet the needs of its audiences and commercial partners, and is confidently investing in areas that will provide returns over the long term”:

“Leader Community News will be focusing its investment on brands which have strong audience engagement and solid advertising market share, and will be investing in, and rejuvenating, its portfolio of community titles.

“However, the reality is that in today’s fragmented market there is more competition than ever before and in some of our smaller markets, publishing a printed publication is not sustainable.”

The closures are unexpected. According to the Media, Arts and Entertainment Alliance, News Corp cited “increased competitive pressures and the size of the market” as factors in its decision in discussions with the union. MEAA’s Victorian head, Carolyn Dunbar, is fuming at the short notice, saying “MEAA members are left in the dark by News Corp”.

“The company is required to consult with their staff about major changes and the company should be drawing on the expertise of editorial staff on the ground before announcing any cuts to titles,” she said. “This is another devastating cut for community news. Local communities need local news and the closure of these mastheads will have a significant impact on these communities.”

The closure of the seven titles is unambiguously bad news for the coverage of local councils, MPs and civic issues in Melbourne. It comes after one of Leader’s main competitors, the glossy Weekly Review group of titles owned by Fairfax, decided to stop covering news in favour of lifestyle and cultural content last year. And follows significant staff cuts at The Age.

Melbourne’s western suburbs have been particularly hard hit. Four out of five Leader papers there are facing closure. The Maribyrnong Leader in the west has survived, along with 26 other Leader papers in Victoria.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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