Rant: Another one bites the dust

Without fanfare or hardly anyone noticing, the Inner West lost an old and well-established local newspaper recently.  So… should we care?

News Ltd quietly shut down the Thursday newsprint edition of the Inner West Courier two weeks ago. It has vanished into the more life-style orientated glossy Tuesday issue.

I can hear the Murdoch haterscheering. And all those who celebrate whenever a “dead trees” business fails.

I’m not one of them, not at all… For one thing, their environmental issues are a fraud. Print is a sustainable industry that uses renewable resources which are recycled, and produces local jobs. Digital does neither – in fact quite the opposite. Nor do I “hate” anyone just because they have an opinion different from mine. Murdoch is entitled to do what he wants with his papers. We do still have a free press in this country.

But maybe not for much longer. It is under threat, and that’s not Murdoch’s fault – it is ours. It is our own consumer behaviour that is closing down local sources of opinion and news.

Many years ago I got my first “real” job with the Courier’s direct precursor – The Glebe and Western Weekly. It was the late 70s, and the paper was then owned and operated by Len Campbell, an old-style tabloid tub-thumper. Imagine an election headline now about your council like this: “REDS CRUSHED!“  And a story that continued breathlessly, “Death for the group which for the past three years has turned local government into a joke and milking cow for hangers-on!”

He loved a good stoush. When Len wasn’t attacking local mayors and thundering about council waste and corruption, just as often he was sniping at his competitor – Cumberland Press (precursor to News Ltd). Len later sold his hugely profitable paper to them. The masthead stuck around till a few years ago, then it morphed into Thursday’s Courier.

It was a lot quieter after the suits took over, but that didn’t stop local politicians complaining. While I was covering politics recently I was variously told: “It’s a Labor paper, you know” (by Greens). “It’s such a Greens Pravda!”(by a Liberal), and “They’re always against us” by Labor. As far as I could tell, none of that was true. Mostly I just saw a self-serving desire not to upset anyone who might sign an advertising contract.

Which now includes all local Councils. Understandably, headlines attacking them are few and far between. Though the Courier did recently get stuck into Marrickville over its anti-Israel boycott policy. And took a jab at Leichhardt’s pretentions with a front page wind turbine photoshopped on top of the town hall. Which really is the point. If it’s not a free press scrutinizing and holding local politicians to account, who does?

It’s not just jobs that go when a local newspaper closes – though for journos and photographers, career paths are vanishing fast. A little bit of our democracy dies too.

Vale, journos, editors, printers, photographers, graphic artists, newspaper distributors, letter writers, community activists and local ratbags. We will miss you.

• Words: Russell Edwards

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