Former AAP and News Corp execs launch regional media business, NewsFarm

A consortium of media executives – including former AAP boss Tony Gillies, founding partner of The Royals Nick Cummins and distinguished editor Alan Oakley – have founded NewsFarm, a regional journalism company looking to establish mastheads in more than 100 news deserts, create more than 450 media jobs, and publish more than 5,000 local news stories each week.

NewsFarm’s website says it wants to “create a quality and sustainable media sector for regional Australia within three years”, in an attempt to remedy the shuttering of 194 local newsrooms since early 2019.

It says it will facilitate local reporting which provides “vital community information, a platform for debate, scrutiny of government and the courts and celebrat[es] achievement by local people”.

The NewsFarm website

Local reporters and contributors will lead the effort – “those stories can only be told by journalists who live and work in their community, not by those in a central capital city hundreds of kilometres away” – and NewsFarm will pursue “special journalism projects that augment – not replace – that local story”.

In addition to coverage of “courts, councils, crime and commerce”, the platform will create content such as club news, sporting results, event information, letters to the editor, and wedding and baby photos.

“But [NewsFarm] also adds another layer of depth,” the website reads. “It provides for a targeted feed of regional, national and international news – content that is relevant to that community, such as agribusiness, mining or tourism news and data.”

The consortium behind the project is packed with well-known industry figures, led by co-founders Gillies and Oakley. Gillies spent 16 years at the helm of AAP before it was almost dissolved last year, which saw him step down amidst Nine and News Corp’s withdrawal and the newswire being granted a last minute lifeline in the form of a group of philanthropists.

Oakley, meanwhile, has spent five decades in the media, editing Nine’s The Sydney Morning Herald and The Sunday Age, and News Corp’s Herald Sun and The Sunday Telegraph. He also spent time as the publisher and editor-in-chief of The Newcastle Herald, and recently worked on sustaining News Corp’s regional mastheads as part of his 20-year tenure with the company.

Cummins will lead brand strategy, after announcing his departure from creative agency The Royals mid last year, and will be joined by an additional three executives leading advertising, editorial, and technology, respectively: Cheryl Newsom, Neil Melloy, and Chris Gibbs.

Newsom is managing director of media consulting business Inxcess after a long period in commercial radio sales. She also launched three regional newspapers in central west New South Wales, and will head up NewsFarm’s advertising efforts. Melloy left News Corp last year as a stretch as editorial director of the business’ regional papers, and Gibbs has expertise in digital transformation.

NewsFarm’s launch comes a month after local news startup PS Media was introduced to the market. Co-founder Simon Crerar was the founding editor of Buzzfeed Australia, and told Mumbrella the platform will have a different approach to other “creaking and struggling” regional news companies.

Like NewsFarm, PS Media’s priority is employing local journalists and innovating the regional news model. And like Oakley and Gillies, Crerar is also joined by other execs, in his case: founding board member of the Public Interest Journalism Initiative Karen Mahlab, journalist and former director of the Centre for Advancing Journalism Dr Margaret Simons, and social enterprise leader Robert Wise.

Last year, News Corp axed more than 100 print papers, converting them to online titles, and closed 14 completely. Regional media business Australian Community Media suspended non-daily titles during the worst of the pandemic, and both companies closed a number of printing presses.


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