News media in the current climate is undoubtedly undergoing a significant transformation.
The announcement last week that WIN would be closing newsrooms in the New South Wales cities of Orange, Wagga Wagga, and Albury and Hervey Bay in Queensland is not a surprise but it is certainly a blow to these communities.
Media diversity is important for many reasons: to ensure local voices and stories are heard and shared; to prevent homogenisation of news and analysis; to perform the critical role of representing key issues not shared by metropolitan centres. And, of course, to provide a sense of community.
Without dedicated regionally based newsrooms, authentic coverage reflecting the many sides of Australian life in rural and regional areas will be lost. Knowledge and understanding of regional life will be lost. It’s not simply a shame – it has long term impacts on local business and entrepreneurship, political support for regions and generally ensuring our people are informed.
Commercially, traditional media is undergoing real change. Advertising dollars are being diverted to social media platforms; subscriptions are driving consumer behaviour to digital entertainment, replacing eyes on free to air television. News, entertainment, information and advertising are found on social media channels – Facebook and Instagram’s influence is seen everywhere from politics to marketing. Opinion-makers are increasingly using social media and decision making is based on social media analytics.
If commercial regionally based media operations are not viable, then what options do we have? Content production through social media becomes even more important. Storytelling is still entirely critical, but how we create and get the stories out there will change.
Universities are well placed to step into this breach – with production infrastructure, and talent onsite, there is a genuine opportunity to provide jobs to skilled journalists to package regional news, and learning development for students cutting their teeth on content making in this digital age.
Social media is not going away but nor is the need for the diversity of news or the principles and integrity that journalism brings to news as a profession.
Charles Sturt University has long been educating the nation’s journalists, with many moving up the ranks of television across morning, news and current affairs programs. Samantha Armytage, Natarsha Belling, Angelos Frangopoulos, Amelia Adams, Edwina Bartholomew, Tara Brown, Melissa Doyle, Amanda Keller, Allison Langdon, Hamish McDonald, Jessica Rowe – the list goes on. Clearly Charles Sturt University knows how to produce highly skilled journalists. The closure of WIN newsrooms in our regional locations is disappointing but provides a real opportunity to move forward in an alternate news delivery model. A licensing partnership model with traditional media could provide quality regional content to media companies without the company having to front the operational costs. News content can also be disseminated through social media such as Facebook and Instagram – both of which are building ‘TV’ channels within their platforms – as well as Youtube, providing easy access to regional news through a growing social media audience.
Ultimately, disruption will always occur in industry but the human desire for communication is not going to leave us. The writing is on the wall for regional media outlets already: let’s work together to transform our approach to news making and sharing to ensure a working model for the future.
The Hon. Fiona Nash is Charles Sturt University's Strategic Adviser – Regional Engagement and Government Relations.