Media company ACM will resume publishing a number of local newspapers from next week, a year after the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic forced the suspension of printing.
Printed copies of The Armidale Expressand Dungog Chronicle in NSW and the Goondiwindi Argus in Queensland will be back in circulation next week, along with the South Australian newspapers Coastal Leader and Flinders News.
ACM managing director Tony Kendall said the resumption of printed editions of the long-standing local mastheads had been made possible by the support of the Morrison government's Public Interest News Gathering (PING) program.
"We're grateful that the federal government recognised the value of regional media and we are pleased to be able to bring these titles back in print despite challenging commercial conditions," Mr Kendall said.
Of the titles returning in print next week, the Armidale, Dungog and Goondiwindi titles received support under the PING program to maintain online local news coverage while their printed editions were suspended.
Mr Kendall said the decision to resume printing the papers was taken after careful assessment of each market but it was not without commercial risk.
He urged local audiences and advertisers to rally around their town's newspaper and show their support by buying a copy, taking out a digital subscription or booking an advertisement.
"ACM is committed to regional Australia and we know that our local newspapers and websites play a vital role keeping people informed," Mr Kendall said.
"But we now need those communities who have told us how much they miss the local paper to back our journalists and advertising sales staff so these titles can return to sustainability."
Mr Kendall said the PING grant received by ACM had helped the company continue to provide public interest journalism for 91 mastheads serving regional and rural communities in every state and territory.
The program was announced by the government last year to support regional media hit hard by the economic impact of pandemic shutdowns.
Mr Kendall acknowledged the ongoing challenges of the advertising market's slow recovery.
"As we review the viability of our portfolio, we have also had to make some difficult decisions," he said.
This included closing a number of websites where advertising support "has not recovered since print publishing had to be suspended", such as the Wingham Chronicle and the Bellingen Courier-Sun in NSW.
These titles had continued to provide local news online after the April 2020 suspension of their weekly printed newspaper.
They were among 12 mastheads retained as digital-only local news providers under ACM's PING grant.
The Wingham Chronicle's website has now been incorporated into the manningrivertimes.com.au.
Also part of the PING program, the Manning River Times reports news and community issues on the Mid-North Coast region around Taree and nearby Wingham, with a journalist from the Wingham Chronicle redeployed to contribute to the coverage.
The recent closure of the Bellingen Courier-Sun website followed ACM's launch of a new publication, the Northern Rivers Review, which is distributed to more than 20 communities across northern NSW, including Byron Bay, Ballina, Lismore and Casino.
Mr Kendall said ACM remained committed to meeting the objectives and outcomes of PING, which is administered by the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.
"As a grateful PING recipient, we look forward to reporting back to the department next month on the first six months of grant activity, and outlining how this important funding has supported ACM's provision of public interest journalism across regional Australia," he said.