The first image on this post is today’s front page of the NT News.

Below that is page 90, the back page of the same edition.

Local, National and International reporting, The Neddies and Advertising

By my (admittedly quick & nasty) tally of the content between pages one and 90, if you’d paid your full whack of $3.00 this is what you got:

  • 19.5 pages of locally-sourced journalism—including coverage of the Australian Prime Minister and Cabinet’s visit to Darwin; the 20th anniversary “mooning” of the Ghan transcontinental train; editorial; content; letters to the Editor; sport etc;
  • 15.5 pages of material sourced from the national and international wire services; other satellite publications in the News network and syndicated material;
  • Four pages of the Tabcorp Form Guide for the neddies at southern racetracks; and
  • a whopping 51 pages of advertising from the (not so) good and (not so) great of the Australian retail world, namely JB HiFi: top of the list at 24 pages; Harvey Norman: a front & back page wrap and a total of 15.5 pages; miscellaneous advertisers came in around four and a half pages; there were two pages of own-brand NT News advertising, two each from Joyce Mayne and Coles and (relative) cheapskates Chemist Warehouse and the Good Guys pitched in one and a half-page respectively.

I grew up with printers ink on my fingers and in my veins, snatching the read sections of the Sydney Morning Herald from my Dad at the breakfast table and wiping smudged fingers on my grey pants on my way out the door headed for school.

My first job was as an apprentice Hand and Machine Compositor on the Fairfax production floor just off Broadway where the Herald and sister publications The Sun, Sun Herald, The Australian Financial Review, The National Times and others were turned from thoughts and words into printed pages .

Later, no matter where I was in the world my breakfast wasn’t complete without the local daily—or preferably dailies—to hand as accompaniment.

The slow death of a local journal of record

After moving to Darwin in the mid-eighties, the NT News—the only daily paper in town—was my local journal of record. For good or ill it was long an essential element of my morning habits.

But things, and newspapers, always change and not always for the better. In recent years the NT News—like most of its News Limited companions—has been hamstrung by poor editorial choices and a flood of tabloid advertising from big-box and bottom-of-the-market brands.

What was once a proud paper that could rightly call itself the local journal of record—a [reasonably] comprehensive and impartial record of the operation of the Territory’s civic society—is no more. Over the years I have spent dozens, perhaps hundreds, of hours trawling through microfiche records of the golden years—the late 1970 and 1980s—of the NT News archives.

Today’s NT News is but an embarrassing simulacrum of its antecedents.

Thats not to disparage the individual efforts of the editors and more-than-capable young journalists that turn up for work every day to bring us the word from the courts, parliamentary galleries, crime scenes and the thousand disparate events that make up our daily news.

But these efforts are all too often diminished by higher-level editorial policies and decisions made way above the pay grades and reach of local staff.

Why we need more local journalists

Most recently local journalists at the NT News—and the local ABC and Nine’s TV franchise—have produced invaluable work covering emerging political controversies, a clutch of long-running and complex coronial inquiries snd good backgrounding work on this year’s NT general election.

Against all of this are falling—no, plummeting is more accurate—circulation and subscription rates—the NT News is only available in a handful of NT cities and towns and most numerically at least Territory towns never receive a newspaper on a daily of weekly basis. This is an accelerating trend and, again, decisions made far away are likely to have an overwhelming impact on the future of local news in the NT.

What doesn’t kill you can only make you stronger?

Recently, as Sam Buckingham-Jones reported in the Australian Financial Review in late February, the NT News looks set to lose one of its biggest advertisers:

Tabcorp is poised to pull its sponsorship of the printed racing form guides in three News Corp Australia-owned capital city mastheads, as the wagering firm tries to reach more punters online instead … Tabcorp is in negotiations about where it can better spend the money that goes to Adelaide’s Advertiser, Darwin’s NT News and The Mercury in Hobart.

Time will tell whether Tabcorp will in fact pull its advertising from the NT News in favour of the more populous eastern states and the knock-on effects that decision may have.

Another threat to local journalism in the NT is the recent decision by Meta to end funding that was used to support and expand journalism across the far-flung corners of the country. The future of the 60 regional ABC journalists funded with its bargaining code money is unclear as is the impact on those media companies—News Corp, Nine and Seven West Media—that enjoyed the largest chunk of the Meta funding.

Regardless, local journalism does it best to thrive but is still under threat, not only from economic decisions taken far-far-away but also from the dog-ate-my-lunch-and-threw-it-up-again visual trash that once-proud newspapers have become.

Watch this space …