regional newspapers

Demise of newspapers not all doom and gloom

regional newspapers
The Centralian Advocate in Alice Springs is among dozens of News Corp publications which will become digital only.

The decision by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp to transition dozens of regional newspapers to digital only was saddening but came as no surprise.

Among them are the NewsMail in Bundaberg and the Centralian Advocate in Alice Springs.

I was managing editor of the Centralian Advocate from 2014-16 in my second stint at the newspaper after going there as a young reporter in 1988.

It was still profitable in 2016. We were meeting all our targets for advertising revenue and circulation when bean counters from the east came wielding an axe.

They wanted to reduce staffing levels and proposed changing the distribution arrangements as part of nationwide cost-cutting measures.

Several times over the past 10 years I thought the bottom had been reached in terms of media decline but now I believe there’s still some way to go.

There’s nobody in particular to blame for this; society has transformed how we consume news and information, however publishers haven’t helped themselves.

There’s been no clear strategy to embrace digital publishing since the Internet arrived in the 1990s. There’s been very little investment in print since the early 2000s.

For example, in the 1990s we used to budget for growth. As a newspaper manager I looked to develop the resources and capability to increase revenue and circulation.

The industry then was conscious to nurture the next generation of readers by engaging schools and covering junior sport. I haven’t seen much evidence of investment in print for more than a decade.

With a more visionary approach 10-15 years ago I believe that print and digital could have co-existed. Perhaps regional daily newspapers should have become weekly and had a greater focus on community news and events. Leave the hard news and breaking news online.

In January 2019, Bundaberg Regional Council started Bundaberg Now to future proof the area against further media decline. That’s now looking like a prescient move.

There’s a role for local government to provide a publishing platform to share news from community organisations and businesses in addition to Council news.

At Bundaberg we’ve delivered this without incurring significant costs.

There’s still a need for external scrutiny of local governments but arguably there’s more scrutiny of public officials today than ever before. Open data is real and everybody has easy access to huge volumes of information. Social media provides a free avenue for people to discuss local issues, criticise and complain.

The future of local news

I hope the online subscription model works for News Corp because local journalism needs to be supported.

I think there will be increased public funding of journalism through local and federal governments. Philanthropists are venturing into news and the ABC continues to have an important role.

Hopefully there will be a revival of newspapers in local communities, owned by local people, like what’s happened in Naracoorte. I see this being similar to the establishment of small breweries in regional areas after their antecedents were swallowed up decades ago by giant companies.

The demise of regional newspapers is not all doom and gloom. With ingenuity, innovation and resolve we can embrace change, adapt and flourish.

media lies

Dealing with media lies

media lies
The media is reluctant to apologise for publishing false information.

If you work in communications there will be times when you need to deal with false statements and lies that have been published or broadcast in the media.

As a former newspaper editor I’m aware that mistakes occur. What galls me is lazy journalism and the deliberate spreading of misinformation.

Sadly there are more instances of this than ever because of declining editorial standards and pressure to publish quickly online.

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Deb Frecklington interview

Bad week for Queensland political advisers

Deb Frecklington interview
Deb Frecklington’s interview with the Courier Mail created controversy over claims that she was attacking the Premier’s image and lack of children.

Being a political adviser carries responsibility to give sound advice, follow correct process and respect the role of public servants, which doesn’t always occur.

A good adviser ensures clear communication, cuts through layers of bureaucracy and troubleshoots issues. An outcome that’s good for the politician should happily be one that’s good for the public as well.

Having worked on each side of the political triangle as a journalist, pubic servant and ministerial adviser, I’ve seen good and bad across all three.

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Kasparov ignites journalism debate

A scientist has said a volcanic eruption in Australia is overdue.

Former world chess champion Garry Kasparov caught my attention on Twitter recently with some posts about modern media and the need to report facts.

A very intelligent man, Kasparov currently chairs the Human Rights Foundation and its International Council. In 2017, he founded the Renew Democracy Initiative (RDI).

Here’s the tweet which piqued my interest:

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Bundaberg Now

Transforming local government communications

Bundaberg Now

Here’s the text from my speech to the national local government IT conference in Coffs Harbour regarding Bundaberg Now as an example of digital disruption.

I’m very pleased that one Council has contacted me already and plans to start something similar …

Today I’ll be talking about digital disruption and how local government can transform the way in which we communicate.

The case study is Bundaberg Now – a Council owned and operated online news platform.

Christensen defined disruption in 1997 as a relatively narrow concept whereby technology evolves through quality improvements to inferior but low-priced products.

In 2016 the Productivity Commission adopted a broader definition that’s more relevant for policy makers – disruptive technologies are developments that drive substantial change.

They noted that new technologies offer opportunities for the creation of innovative businesses, a greater range of products, and new ways for governments to address policy problems.

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