Fewer journalists covering local news

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Yanchep News Online aims to provide Yanchep and Gingin readers, local governments and businesses with local information, including public interest journalism and advertising.

CITY of Wanneroo and Shire of Gingin representatives will today hear about a new study showing fewer journalists covering local news for local communities.

City of Wanneroo councillor Frank Cvitan and chief executive officer Daniel Simms and Shire of Gingin chief executive officer Aaron Cook are in Canberra to attend the Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) regional cooperation and development forum.

The study was conducted this year by the Public Interest Journalism Initiative and forms part of the 2019 State of the Regions report released today by ALGA.

Associate Professor Margaret Simons from Monash University and the Public Interest Journalism Initiative and Gary Dickson surveyed media managers employed by local government areas (LGAs) in metropolitan, regional and rural areas.

They found almost half of respondents from the metropolitan and regional and rural areas noted “some decline” or “significant decline” in local news coverage during the past five years.

“If we look at the basic news media function of reporting on local government, more than a third of LGAs reported that no journalists attended local government meetings,” the authors said.

“Although the figures suggest that some journalists follow up without attending the meeting, the indications are that a large part of local government business goes entirely unscrutinised and unreported.”

The authors said research worldwide indicated a close relationship between journalism and the broader civic health of communities, so the decline had serious implications for the agency, power and health of citizens in Australia’s regions.

The study confirmed that the broken traditional media model had led to advertising dollars going online to search engines and other platforms, rather than traditional media outlets.

Shrinking newsrooms meant fewer journalists covering local news for local communities.

The authors noted that regional and rural news media fulfilled a need that metropolitan media could not and while the ABC made an important contribution it could not address the overall decline.

ALGA President David O’Loughlin said he hoped the study could spark a crucial national conversation.

“The authors have done Australians a great service in highlighting a problem that affects the way local communities are informed across the country, but especially in regional, rural and remote areas,” he said.

“There are no easy answers to remedying the decline in journalists, but we need to discuss it and share ideas about possible solutions.”

Yanchep News Online (YNO) covers suburbs in the northern part of the City of Wanneroo and the Shire of Gingin.

The YNO website went live in February 2016 while the owner was employed as a full time journalist for Echo News – an independent newspaper covering the local government areas of Swan, Kalamunda, Mundaring, Northam, York and Toodyay.

In August 2017 YNO’s owner went to a four-day week to spend more time working in Yanchep and Gingin.

From July YNO’s owner will be working full time in Yanchep and Gingin so local government meetings will be a high priority.

In the past newspapers (print) relied on advertising and/or paid circulation to pay for staff including journalists.

Now shrinking print newsrooms means fewer journalists writing local stories and it also means fewer local advertisements and local public notices.

It also means many news outlets are going online and trying to survive with digital advertising their only source of revenue (unless they go behind a paywall).

These days local governments and most businesses have their own Facebook pages or Twitter accounts and their own website and perhaps think that is all they need to reach the public.

Many businesses also pay to advertise on Facebook and Google but it is questionable whether much of that money stays in the City of Wanneroo and the Shire of Gingin.

In 2017 marketing professor Mark Ritson said: “digital advertising is increasingly dominated by the digital duopoly of Google and Facebook, which hoover up most of the advertising revenue for digital media but bear none of the costs of producing it”.

Also Google and Facebook are not offering to put some of the revenue they make towards providing readers, local governments and businesses with public interest journalism.

*Disclosure: the journalist is the owner of Yanchep News Online.