Antony Catalano and Alex Waislitz’s newspaper business is preparing to sell or shut down more than 13 mastheads as the company combats rising print costs and a slump in the advertising market.
Australian Community Media, the publisher of titles such as The Canberra Times, The Newcastle Herald and The Land, is asking staff to take their annual leave over Easter, a move which will reduce costs but also leave a skeleton staff for the days after the break.
Antony Catalano is on a selling spree.Credit:Jesse Marlow
In an email sent to staff on Monday, seen by this masthead, ACM managing director Tony Kendall told staff the business was in the process of selling seven titles in the NSW central-west and south-west regions after receiving an approach by Provincial Press Group.
Titles in this area include the Forbes Advocate, Parkes Champion-Post, The Grenfell Record, Cowra Guardian, Boorowa News, Canowindra News and The Young Witness. The agreement has been signed and transition should be by the end of the month. This would add to titles in South Australia and Queensland which were sold to regional newspaper company The Star Group last Saturday.
Kendall also told staff he planned to shut down Queensland community titles the Jimboomba Times and Redlands City Bulletin and four Western Australian titles including the Bunbury Mail, the Mandurah Mail and the August-Margaret River Mail. The Queensland titles have already shut and are closing for good while the Western Australian titles are going to digital-only by the end of the month.
The closures will be completed by April 30 and are indicative of the ongoing pressure regional media companies face in generating cash from advertisers and subscribers. This is not the first time ACM has closed newspapers. In 2020, following a temporary suspension of print publications, Catalano permanently closed a number of regional titles.
Kendall told staff the company was narrowing its focus to more profitable titles to ensure the continued growth of the business. “While it may seem from these changes that ACM is in decline, let me be clear that this is not the case,” he said.
Catalano told this masthead the core of the business was strong.
“We continue to invest,” he said. “Regrettably some smaller publications were at best break even before we bought the business, and the reality of an 80 per cent increase in paper costs and a significant drop in government spend made them completely unsustainable in print form.”
In another email sent to staff last Friday, Kendall told employees the organisation wanted as many people as possible to take annual leave to “enjoy an extended six-day Easter weekend”.
“ACM is aiming to operate on a skeleton staff for the days immediately after the break,” he said.
The same approach is set to be implemented the day before the Anzac Day public holiday, as Kendall said it was “an opportunity to use one day of annual leave to have a four-day weekend.
“It is important that we closely manage our leave liabilities, but it is equally important that our team members get every chance to rest and recharge,” he said.
Catalano, a real-estate entrepreneur and former CEO of Domain Group, bought ACM from Nine (the owner of this masthead) in 2018 for $115 million. The acquisition, which was backed by billionaire Alex Waislitz, involved 170 newspaper titles and a large amount of property in regional and capital cities. In 2023, ACM operates about 100 publications and has significantly reduced its property portfolio from 26 print plants and buildings across the country to just six.
The Canberra Times office on the corner of Pirie and Newcastle streets, which was the crown jewel of the portfolio, was sold in December for about $20 million.
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