Plans by WIN television to axe four local newsrooms, including Wagga, have triggered a fierce community reaction.
Wagga-based Nationals MLC Wes Fang has taken the issue to state parliament, condemning the closures as a "blatant, cold cost-cutting measure made during one of the state's worst droughts", while the NSW Nationals has announced advertising boycott on the WIN network.
Between 35 and 40 people are expected to be out of work by Friday, June 28, as the newsrooms in Wagga, Albury, Orange-Dubbo and Queensland's Wide Bay are shut down.
In a motion that asked the upper house to call on WIN to reverse the decision, Mr Fang said any cuts to these regional news services represented "a devastating blow to the community" and that the decision was a "tragedy for local communities and represents a sad day for news services".
Speaking to The Daily Advertiser, Mr Fang said he "couldn't stress enough how this decision will devastate rural communities".
Monash University lecturer Margaret Simons, is the co-author of a new report, which found there were fewer journalists in regional Australia, to the detriment of reporting on important issues.
The report, co-written by Gary Dickson, found advertising dollars are going online to search engines and other platforms, rather than traditional media outlets. Shrinking newsrooms means fewer journalists covering local news for local communities.
The authors noted that regional and rural news media fulfill a need that metropolitan media cannot, and while the ABC makes an important contribution, it cannot address the overall decline.
Associate Professor Simons told The Daily Advertiser she was saddened, but not surprised, by the announcement, as it followed a decision in 2018 by WIN to cut numbers in its Tasmanian newsroom.
Professor Simons said the decision was unusual in that whole newsrooms were being closed down.
"Usually we see people leave and not be replaced and others being asked to do more with less," she said.
Profession Simons said she had fielded calls from all over Australia, from people expressing concern about how the decision would affect the coverage of local news.
She said cuts like this made the media less able to share information with the community, particularly in regional areas.
In a statement on Thursday afternoon, WIN said the decision to axe its local bulletins was "based on the commercial viability of funding news in these areas".
"Changing content consumption habits and increased competition from digital content providers, that don't face the same regulatory conditions that challenge traditional media, has led to a reduction in demand for local news bulletins in these regions," the statement read.
"WIN's priority in the short term will be working with the staff impacted to attempt to redeploy them into other roles in the network."
The Daily Advertiser has asked WIN to clarify how news from these areas will be covered in the future, and whether it will retain an office in Wagga in the future. No replay has yet been received.
Member for Wagga Joe McGirr said his "heart goes out to the news team at the WIN Network's Wagga bureau.
"I am saddened and appalled to hear the decision to close and cut jobs, came with only one week's notice. I understand one of these journalists only started in April. This is unacceptable. Surely the bureau knew it would make this decision before last night," Dr McGirr said.
"Our community relies on a range of media sources. It is critical to strong public debate. When we lose a local media source it is a major concern."
Wagga mayor Greg Conkey, a former journalist, said he was disappointed to see a "valuable news service" lost to the community.
Dan Hayes, a councillor and Labor candidate for the seat of Wagga, expressed concern for the staff who had been given little more than a week's notice about the job losses.
Mr Hayes said regional newsrooms were often considered "stepping stones for larger careers" and provided valuable opportunities for young journalists, a view shared by Councillor Conkey.
Robert Borsak, the leader of the Shooters, Fishers, Farmers, said his party would "wholeheartedly" support Mr Fang's motion.
Seb McDonagh, the SFF Wagga spokesman, said while he understood the commercial considerations, he saw "this as yet another reduction in locally targeted services for people in regional areas and a further consolidation of views expressed in the media'.
Like Mr Hayes, he was concerned about the impact it would have on regional areas as a training ground for new journalists.
"Australia is a large country, and the regions are very different and have localized events weather and news. Is it now time that we ask the government to insist on a commitment to coverage for media organisations similar to that to which Telstra is subjected," he said.
Former WIN sports journalist Brendan Catanzariti said the closure of the newsrooms was a "disappointing" end of an era.