News Corp Australia posts $60.7m loss as pandemic takes toll on media


imageNews Corp Australia has posted a $60.7m loss as the pandemic exacerbates ongoing upheaval throughout the media industry.

The company blamed a $167m hit to advertising revenues on regional and community closures or digital transitions.

More than 220 Australian newsrooms have shrunk or vanished since the start of the pandemic, while 111 have opened or expanded.

News Corp Australia to introduce Covid vaccine mandate for staff Read more The Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) collates public data for its Australian Newsroom Mapping Project .According to that data, since January 2019, News Corp Australia has had 116 “contractions”, most of which were the closure of mastheads or the cancellation of print editions.The figures show 20 News Corp newsrooms experienced growth with new websites, and it is understood an additional four News Corp websites also launched in that time.

The number of people reading newspapers was dropping long before Covid.While the pandemic saw an initial bump in news consumption, it didn’t last .

News Corp Australia’s financial report for its publishing and printing group revealed the $60.7m loss to Asic this week – less than the $151.4m the year before.Its 2020-21 report shows a $167m decline in advertising revenue, “reflecting the closure or transition to digital of regional and community newspapers”.Those closures, though, were also partly responsible for a drop in expenses of $58m.

A 25% increase in digital subscribers (to 810,000) drove circulation and subscription revenues up by 17% to $636m.

Earnings before tax, interest and depreciation were $48.6m, and the News Corp Australia tax bill was $8.2m.

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In March, parent company News Corp signed a deal with Google and Facebook for the Australian part of the business, which chief executive Robert Thomson said would have a “material and meaningful impact on our Australian news businesses”.That deal is not detailed in the 2020-21 report.

The Australian company went on a “ hiring spree ” earlier this year after rounds of job cuts .

In the United States, News Corp last week posted a profit of US$267m, up from US$47m the year before.

Journalist union the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance has estimated up to 5,000 journalists have left the industry in the past decade, and at least 1,000 since Covid struck.

PIJI chief executive Anna Draffin said Covid had accelerated the changes already occurring in the media industry and exposed existing weaknesses.

“There are clear trends emerging.Obviously the flight to digital is broadly reflected – we saw that as a remedial response to Covid, as mastheads closed.

We saw suspended print productions and digital mastheads operating in their place,” she said, adding that some had since started again.

There was cause for hope though, she said.

“What we’re seeing in terms of green shoots is the community interest in local news versus the financial reality,” she said.

“There is reason to hope but … that needs investment and incentive for investment.”.

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