Earlier this year, the ABC announced that it would be cutting 200 jobs in order to establish a $50 million content fund and create 80 new roles in regional areas — not so great for those who would lose their jobs, but a welcome announcement for regional and rural journalists after years of devastating redundancies.
Regional journalism in Australia is one of the least researched areas in the field of media and communications. However, the research that does exist shows that regional journalism connects people, and empowers and
advocates for communities in a way that metropolitan journalism does not.
Take my hometown, Albury, for example. Albury is located in regional New South Wales and is home to about 50,000 people. When I was in high school, there were a number of young people in our area who took their own lives. People were alarmed that there wasn’t a federally funded service in our region available to help young people living with mental illness.
In August 2012, staffers at The Border Mail — Albury-Wodonga’s local newspaper — took matters into their own hands. They launched a campaign called Ending the Suicide Silence, and published beautifully written, personal stories of those who had lost a loved one to suicide, along with an examination of Albury-Wodonga’s mental health system. The paper won two Walkleys for what the judges called a “courageous, dignified and superbly put together” campaign.
Then, the paper began a campaign to get a headspace centre in Albury-Wodonga. Headspace is a mental health support service for people aged 12– 25. There are centres all over Australia, but Albury had been neglected. The Border Mail published butterflies in the paper, and asked readers to sign them and send them back. I remember sitting down at our dining table to cut out a butterfly and sign it, then walking down to the post box at Woolworths and dropping it in.
The Border Mail stuck all the butterflies up in the window of their office. They ultimately collected about 5000 butterflies, took them to Canberra, and gave them to the federal health minister in person. In January of 2015, Albury’s brand new headspace centre opened its doors to young people — all thanks to a campaign started by a local paper.
While I was growing up in Albury, the local media were also vital in the community campaign to get funding for a cancer centre in our area so that patients wouldn’t have to drive long distances, away from their family and friends, to access chemotherapy and other treatments. At the end of 2016, after years of campaigning, Albury Wodonga Regional Cancer Centre opened. I was lucky enough be at the official opening of the centre while interning at ABC Local Radio, and everyone I talked to — doctors, nurses, patients, friends and family — was overjoyed by the fact that people in our region finally had access to a state-of-the-art cancer centre.
The importance of regional media cannot be underestimated. It is both a powerful advocate and forum for rural and regional communities, and the issues affecting them. Without it, they would be lost.