Our suburban newspapers – the elephant in the room

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My appreciation for and reliance on our suburban press for finding out what is going on in my community have both deepened significantly in recent years.

This process has been hastened by my metropolitan newspaper career fading to memory, at the very time those newspapers fight for survival and seem often to be pre-occupied with major sport, federal politics, shock/horror and click bait.

And, until recently, I was even working on either a regional newspaper (Geelong Advertiser) or its free, weekly “giveaways”, and even (more recently) for the proprietors of one of our three suburban titles.

As well, doing Consider The Sauce has really heightened my desire for information about what’s going on in the greater western suburbs. And I’m not just talking about restaurant reviews – reading the suburban press has hipped me to many festivals and community events, as well as providing information about local politics and so on.

So I am both intrigued and a little disturbed by events of recent weeks that have revealed to me a suburban press “elephant in the room” – how many, or how few, of these newspapers actually get delivered.

Here’s how it unfolded …

A few days before the Yarraville Festival, the festival Facebook page mentioned that there was a lift-out festival program going in that week’s edition of the Maribyrnong Weekly. Someone immediately replied that they hardly ever saw a copy of that publication.

On reflection, I realised this was very true for us, too! In fact, and speaking very subjectively, it seemed at that point like we’d seen any or all of our three suburban newspapers little more than a handful of times each in about six months.

So I made a phone call to register my unhappiness. You’ll be unsurprised to learn, given the way this story is headed, that the nice people I spoke to were and are well used to receiving such phone calls.

The upshot was that the following week I got a door knock from a representative of the company that distributes the Star and the Maribyrnong Weekly.

After discussing our specific non-delivery issues, I mentioned that as I’m in “full-on job-seeker mode”, perhaps I should be delivering these rags my own self.

One thing led to another, many phone calls were made and it was settled I would become a “walker” for a particular area of Yarraville.

For several reasons that I won’t address here, it all came to nowt – I pulled the plug without delivering a newspaper, let alone getting paid for it.

I will say, though, that my decision had nothing to do with the professionalism or competence of the various people with whom I dealt.

But it’s fair to say I now have insights into how and why getting these newspapers delivered is something of a logistical nightmare.

I have long assumed that non-delivery issues amounted to little more than a fraudulent scam perpetrated by the various distribution companies.

I now know that’s not the case – or not always the case.

The people I conferred with seemed to be doing their very best to deal with a complex operation that involves every neighbourhood being drawn up into sectors that are assigned to the available “walkers”.

Then there are the “walker” issues themselves.

Let’s face it – the pay is pitiful. Had I embarked on this new, um, career, I would’ve been paid at a rate unlike anything I have received since I was a pre-teenager. About $10 an hour, I estimate, and that’s if I’d been going like a bat out of hell.

So, as was said to me this morning, “this is not work that suits everyone”.

Nor, I was informed, is it viable to rely on such work for a living wage.

All this reduces dramatically the pool of potential “walkers”.

Finally, and inevitably, given all this – poor pay, hard work, the changing seasons and more – some regular “walkers” end up taking the sly, dishonest way out by simply not doing the runs for which they are claiming payment.

This is an unhappy state of affairs on several levels.

For one, my respect for the journalism and journalists of the suburban press is these days very high indeed.

They are covering – in some cases superbly – issues, people and events that simply don’t get a look in in The Age or the Herald Sun.

To cite just one example – during the recent local body election campaigns, from what I could see it was very much the suburban press that was on top of the issues and what the various candidates offered or were not offering.

For these journalists, and the sales staff who sell advertising space on the basis that their newspapers will be delivered, such non-delivery issues must be extremely frustrating.

Like many of my former colleagues, I got well used to fielding phone calls from angry and upset readers.

For many in our communities, particularly older citizens who may not have internet access or skills and for whom the daily papers are an unjustifiable expense, the suburban press is a cherished and essential part of life.

Finally, and perhaps most profoundly, it seems to me that our suburban press, and regardless of its corporate ownership, remains a vital ingredient of the glue that keeps our communities together.

And, yes, I believe that holds true even in a cyber age that includes Facebook and Twitter.

Am interested to hear about suburban newspaper delivery from Consider The Sauce visitors – good and bad both welcome!

24 thoughts on “Our suburban newspapers – the elephant in the room

    • I use the various websites sometimes. But they seem to be a bit haphazard, non-comprehensive, slow to update and difficult to navigate. Besides, as an old-school newspaperman, I do like the “real thing”! 🙂

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  1. We haven’t had our local papers in years. Some guy came around over six months ago, we had papers delivered for a week, that’s it. I emailed him, but the email kept bouncing back. I love receiving the local papers, and it annoys me that they don’t arrive. I don’t want to read them online, I like getting them at home. Really frustrating.

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  2. Pretty much right. I’ve been involved with locals for over 3 decades, doing literally every job imaginable, from being a walker, printing them on large Goss presses, to running my own for 7 years, and, along with community radio, they are the heartbeat of communities. Coupled with the problems you have outlined is the very real diminishing of revenue they are all facing in this digital age. And the main solution to that, combining under a bigger umbrella, brings its own problems – the diminishing of local knowledge and voice. They have their backs to not just one, but two walls.

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    • Hi Greg! Thanks for that.

      “Combining under a bigger umbrella, brings its own problems – the diminishing of local knowledge and voice.”

      Yes, this is true. As part of its consolidation, News Ltd and HWT now routinely tap into the Leader group for local news on a daily basis, leaving the Leader papers themselves feeling like mere “feeders” for their metro big sister. I believe this is having a profound impact on suburban staff morale.

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  3. Funny you posted about this – I made the same comment to my colleagues no less than two hours ago!

    I’m in Seddon and I get the local papers sporadically at best, are they meant to be weekly/monthly? I wouldn’t even know. Although leading up to election time I seemed to collect a pile of them!

    It’s a shame, because it offers a completely different perspective from the resources available online.

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    • Hi Tennizzlle! They’re all supposed to be weekly. But the very strong impression I’ve gained is that there are simply not enough reliable “walkers” to go around. And given the costs issues mentioned by Greg above, it’s a sure bet they’ll not be making the pay higher!

      “a completely different perspective from the resources available online” – yes, I like that!

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  4. I’m in stirling st footscray and we receive the leader for a few weeks every few months, then it stops. Haven’t had a star or weekly delivered in well over a year. And I miss them. I’m completely out of touch with local issues ( I never get around to looking at them on-line), which as a former councillor is a huge change for me. It would be interesting to see some research on just how many are actually delivered across melbourne compared to what they claim to their advertisers… and to reflect that because of poor delivery it’s only a matter of time before the advertising dries up even more.
    It seems a whole new model is needed. What happens in other cities around the world?

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  5. I can’t remember the last time we had any local papers delivered in my inner-Yarraville street…months go by without them.

    The problem Kenny…that is…the problem for the newspapers and local walkers pay packets…is that I don’t really miss the local papers. This has gotta be good for the environment, and also a symptom of the bigger shift you allude to. Basically, their “perspective” is not one that adds value in my mind.

    I don’t believe the local knowledge or voice is diminishing either. Instead, I enjoy local blogs such as yours, I have a background local news search running on Google for suburbs in the area (feeders), internet links to local business/classifieds/calendars, etc. A chat with a few residents and a glance at the well placed notice boards in the village never hurt either!

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  6. Hi Andrew, and thanks for your thoughts! I disagree to at least one extent – I believe these papers still offer quite a lot. Mind you, as you imply, doing a blog like this hardly leaves me an objective or passive observer of these processes! In some ways, CTS and its ilk are hastening the demise of these papers and their employees. Oh no – I done gave myself the sack! 🙂

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  7. Like clockwork, every Wednesday – either early morning or ‘when we get home from work’, the newspapers are in our mailbox (almost-west-Footscray). There’s a friendly bloke who’s been doing it longer than we’ve been in town, always pushing his trolley around. Retired I guess, he talks about doing it for pocket money – but he’s reliable. Clearly we got the good area for local news – we get all three!

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  8. Out in the wild west of Ardeer our papers are delivered like clockwork. They are wrapped with about 45 different bits of junk mail. I like the paper so do not put a no junk mail stickers on our letterbox. I assume it is how the walker makes a living by collecting a whole heap of jobs and doing them all at once,

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    • We don’t get junk mail either. Mostly I don’t mind, but with little kids, they’d be handy around birthdays and Christmas!

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  9. I wonder why they don’t set up distribution points around shopping centres, the library, etc. if it’s no longer viable to hand-deliver them? Most people would get to the shops once a week or fortnight, or would know someone who does.

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  10. We only get the Weekly, every Wednesday morning (early, before we leave for work). This is in Footscray a few hundred metres from the Whitten Oval. I’ve seen the paper deliverer out while I’ve been walking the dog and she seems to deliver a bunch of flyers at the same time, as someone else mentioned, presumably to earn more for each delivery run. I love reading the local papers and often read them online to make up for not getting 2 of them delivered.

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  11. Thanks for your post about this – I’ve been scratching my head over the matter since early December. I’m in West Footscray (Clive St) and we used to get ’em like clockwork. I (naively?) just thought that the Christmas break may have had to do with the sudden disappearance, but I haven’t had a single local paper yet this year; it was only when I went on their website I realised they still existed!
    The local press really does need to be supported – they are the lifeblood of our community and whilst I appreciate being able to communicate with other ‘westies’ via the internet, (you’ve got a bloody great blog, btw) we still need our papers. Sure, that’s on the web too, but I’m old-fashioned. Heck, I may just call them up about being a walker myself.

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  12. This annoys me too. You can get the leader from a basket in the foyer at the Bulldogs if you’re in the areas (and a coffee).

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