Grant Broadcasters hiring more journalists: Alison Cameron

radioinfo continues the conversation with the CEO of Grant Broadcasters, Alison Cameron.

This week we talk about news and information content plus social media.

You have hired more journalists and have begun your own rural reports. Is this part of your commitment to localism?

Yes. We’ve hired nine additional journalists, some with the help of the PING funding, including  a journalist in South Australia just to do South Australian rural news.

We were getting our rural news from from Nine Radio, but it didn’t have a focus on South Australia. Now, with a rural journalist in South Australia we are doing much more rural content that is relevant to South Australians.

Because it is relevant to our listeners we have a lot of sponsors and can cover his wage. It wasn’t something that we were really considering until the funding came about, but it is proving worthwhile for both listeners and advertisers.

We have also hired a couple of additional digital journalists in Queensland… I’m not done with spending the money yet. I’ve got more journalists that I want to employ to boost what we’re doing locally… I think we’re the only media company in Australia who was actually using that funding to employ more journalists. You will see more jobs ads on radioinfo in coming months.

For our news bulletins, I met with our News Editors last month and we intend to keep increasing our local news content.

At the end of the day, I’m not doing this because of funding, which will eventually end, or for us. I’m doing it because I think it’s the right thing for the community, I really do.

Let’s look at Port Lincoln, I use them as an example all the time. It’s not a big market, but there are things that happen there locally all the time and they are interesting to our listeners. Our journalists have to know what is happening in the local community, because that news is just as important to our listeners as national and international news, which they can get from many sources.

Maybe the council is talking about closing a road, that’s important information for the community to know about. It’s not what I think is is relevant, its what the community thinks is relevant, we need to put that on our news agenda.

Journalism research from around the world shows that people are concerned about the low level of public interest newsgathering and scrutiny of what’s going on, especially in smaller communities. This used to be primarily the domain of press, not just in Australia, but internationally, so when you say the demise of local newspapers we also see decreases in scrutiny of what is happening.

One of the interesting things that’s happening in some council areas is that councils are setting up their own newspapers or newsletters, with their own PR journalist who writes good news council stories.

Yes, that is a trend in some areas where there are fewer local newspaper journalists.

Radio journalists work breakfast hours so it has often been difficult to cover council meetings that often start in the evening and go until late at night, but now more council meetings are streamed online and available for later replay, so this makes it easier for our radio journalists to cover what’s happening in councils. In some areas we have the only local newsroom still operating, so this is important. Technology has helped us in that respect.

Some of your stations are mandated to keep the amount of local news up because they are subject to the ‘trigger event’ rules.

Yes, many of our stations have that legal requirement to do twelve and a half minutes of news a day. But I don’t want to do it just because the law says so. In fact some of our stations are not trigger rated, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be doing it anyway.

We are committed to local news because it’s the right thing to do. Local content will trump other types of news so long as our teams deliver information that is compelling and unique.

We also do many community service announcements, we cover local charities, fetes and fundraisers, we’ve always done that, it’s part of our DNA.

What about the the challenge of social media and particularly local Facebook groups?

Yes, that is a challenge, but it’s not curated by individuals. Some of those Facebook groups have been set up for good reasons during covid… but many people on them just make outlandish comments. We posted all of our news stories on Facebook until we got banned like everyone else. It is a reminder that we are not in control of that platform.

We’re careful about turning commentary on or off and removing stuff, but to do that you’ve got to have somebody sitting there actually watching it live… I don’t know the value of that. We’ve got our own websites. All of our news stories that appear on our broadcast channels are written in some way, shape or form on our websites. Some of them will just simply be a few lines from the broadcast story, others will be a bit more in depth. We post on Facebook, we post on Instagram… not just news, but what’s actually happening in the community… the more we make available, the better.

What’s your podcasting strategy?
We don’t have one. We do catch-up, but that’s not podcasts. We have just had a look at it and we’ll be dropping some of those that have very, very low numbers, but we will keep others because it’s good for branding.
The numbers of people who listen to catch-up of a regional podcast are low, significantly lower than broadcast, so it’s a bit of an add on… I don’t see catch-up as really significant in the regions. I struggle because, to monetize it, you’ve got to have big numbers. If Townsville is doing a podcast… the population of Townsville is about 150000… What’s the maximum you’re going to get… it makes it very difficult to monetize for the effort and the resources involved.
But if you find the right person and the right topic, then it could be a world topic.
Yes, then that would have appeal. You have to get the numbers. We are about to do a podcast that actually isn’t town focused, but it’s regionally focused… it will be interesting to see if we can get enough traction.
Does every station have to be revenue positive every year, or do you subsidise the smaller markets with the big ones?
We have a couple of smaller markets that we subsidise, but each business is built to make it profitable at varying levels.
When we picked up the Tassie group ordinarily we wouldn’t have wanted Queenstown or Scottsdale, they’re too small. But it was a group so we said we’ll pick it up as a group. With populations of about five thousand, I can tell you the revenue is not very high. Hobart and Launceston provide resources to those markets because they can’t afford it.
What is the future of regional media businesses in a world where the money seems to go to the big, aggregated companies and they can put more money back into high level production to get bigger audiences and compete on a world scale?
It’s an interesting part of the changing world of media… There’s Bunnings, Officeworks, all these big box national retailers are in all our markets as well Those markets are no longer just little towns with only local shops, there are national brands there too.
Consumers who live in regional markets are increasingly wanting the availability of what people in the metro market have. They want that, but they also want to support their local neighbour who has a hardware store. So they struggle with this because they want the best of both worlds. I don’t know where that’s going to end up.
During covid many of the national brands shut down. Take Peter Alexander for example, they had a national policy to close their regional stores for a while. If you wanted to go and buy a nightie, you couldn’t go there, but you could go to your local store because they were open because they knew that there are no cases in their town.
When Victoria had its shutdown they didn’t take into account the regions. Mildura is so much closer to South Australia, just over the border, but they had the same level of lockdown as Melbourne did. The local business people would have made very different decisions to the head office of a national company… I get the feeling from those local markets that they’re valuing the actions of the local business during covid.
People live in the regions for a reason and we’re seeing people increasingly leaving the cities to work in the regions because they can work from home and for a whole heap of reasons. You’re talking about some very qualified and skilled people. It’s boom time in the regions, the Boomtown campaign outlines all of that.
We had the bushfires, that was awful, then Batemans Bay was affected early on by covid. Things were pretty bad, but since Easter of last year people are travelling to the regions, you can’t find accommodation anywhere, it’s busy. Hospitality businesses can’t get enough stuff. On the Sunshine Coast I heard there were 800 jobs going in hospitality. The two hotels in Bowral are looking for about 40 staff but can’t get them. On the south coast of New South Wales cafes can’t open because they cannot get the staff.
One of the problems is we don’t have the backpackers and the international students. Cairns, for example, relies on backpackers for all the hospitality jobs, Sydney hospitality venues would have relied on international students and so forth.
For us, we hired nine or so journalists and it took us a long time to find them. We can’t get sales reps in most of our markets… we’re actively looking at admin people… If you’re the right person and want a good job, come and work for us in the regions. We did have a couple of lay offs very early on in the pandemic but since then all of our staff have been fully employed on full salaries. There’s nothing wrong with our business model… we want to hire people.
What is your mix of national versus local advertising?
It’s still about 30% national and 70% local.
Is that the right mix for your company and your business model?
Yes, I think it is. Local revenue is still doing fine and National is doing well, they balance out at various times.
We are not heavily reliant on the agricultural sector, it’s not the main industry in most of our areas, but other segments such as motor vehicle sales and construction have not recovered yet. Local car dealers used to be one of our biggest categories of advertiser, but cars are not being imported so they don’t have any to sell at the moment. Both of those categories have dropped down for us, but other market segments such as home and office supplies, services and government advertising have increased.

This is the second conversation with Alison Cameron. See the first part here We are entrenching our focus on localism

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