As newspapers move online, the last letterpress newspaper soldiers on

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As communities around the country face a future without a printed local newspaper, Australia’s only remaining letterpress newspaper has no intention of ending it’s weekly edition.

The Don Dorrigo Gazette has been providing news to the tiny NSW Mid North Coast town for more than a century.

Owner Michael English said while many other titles in the region are going on-line only or disappearing completely, the Gazette was staying put.

History on the page every week

The Don Dorrigo Gazette has been running since 1906 and is is the last letterpress newspaper still printing in the country.

Letterpress involves composing blocks of movable type into a bed of press, inking it and pressing paper against it.

Michael English grew up among the presses — his father John was the editor for more than 50 years, and when Michael was made redundant from his job at the local sawmill in 2006, he officially joined the Gazette.

The articles in the paper are mostly contributed by local community members and it survives on advertising revenue, newspaper sales and subscriptions; all of which have been suffering during COVID-19.

A letterpress newspaper A letterpress newspaper
The type for the newspaper is laid into a bed before going through the printing press.(ABC Coffs Coast: Liz Keen)

Fewer papers being printed

Mr English said he had reduced the print run in recent times to 500 per week due to a decline in demand during the coronavirus pandemic; but previously they had printed between 700 and 800 copies.

“It varies from week to week, sometimes you nearly sell out and other times you don’t.

The newspaper is mostly sold in Dorrigo, which has a population of just over 1,000, however it is also sold in nearby Bellingen, Coffs Harbour and Grafton with a cover price of $1.

There are also subscribers from as far afield as Moree, Sydney and Queensland, and at one time, Canada.

“A lady (there) was interested in the type of printing we did and she took out a six-month subscription just so she could read the paper because it was printed letterpress.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has also affected advertising revenue.

“It’s funny we lost some advertising and then we gained some from other businesses in town, but what’s helped us is all the advertising from the government at the moment for COVID-19.”

What does the future hold?

Mr English has no intention of taking the Don Dorrigo Gazette online, despite the recent decisions of larger media companies to go digital-only.

“Not everyone’s online, not everyone’s on Facebook and not everyone reads every newspaper,” Mr English said.

Just down the mountain from Dorrigo, the News Corp owned Coffs Coast Advocate and Daily Examiner in Grafton will both cease digital editions at the end of June, in line with a restructure announced last week.

While it may pose an opportunity for Mr English, he said his priority remained his hometown.

“I mean we sell (newspapers) off the plateau, but I try to cover everything for Dorrigo, but who knows, we might have to look at other things and sell more things down the coast, we’ll have to see what happens.”