Local, national and international news and the important distinction between them in radio

The 10th edition of the Digital News Report: Australia made for interesting reading.

SBS just pipped the ABC as the most trusted news provider, heavy news consumers are the most likely to be similarly invested in podcasts, people trust news less and don’t like to pay for news but online news subscriptions still increased in Australia.

When it comes to content, people are most interested in listening for local news, as you can see in the Report’s graph below.

What is missing from this graph is the distinction that I think occurs in all radio newsrooms between local and national news. I would be very interested in a survey of listener interest across local, national and international news and certain stories that might straddle all three.

A current and very topical example of this is the release today of Julian Assange. An international story with its ties to the US and UK, national in that he is returning home to Australia after five years a prisoner, and then perhaps, in Townsville where he was born and attended school, or via interviews with his family, there’s a very local angle as well.

By lumping local news all in one category you are putting a car accident that blocks the Bruce Highway in Brisbane alongside MONA in Tasmania hanging Picasso in the toilets. The MONA story would catch my ear wherever I lived. As I’m nowhere near the Bruce Highway that hyper local and relevant story would not.

Living in Canberra our ‘local’ news is often headlined by the national bubble we live within, like yesterday’s announcement by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese that former NSW Liberal Matt Keen will head up the Climate Change Authority after only resigning last week. All it takes is some sort of tag that says, “the Prime Minister made the announcement from Canberra” and the story can tick political, local and national news boxes.

By contrast the CBAA posted this support of local news to Facebook today:

As the live radio reach of community stations tends to sit within the boundaries they represent, unless you are listening online or streaming, news featured on such stations will skew towards the very local. Xtra Insights surveys in the last six months of Campbelltown on the outskirts of Sydney, and Ipswich on the outskirts of Brisbane, also seem to indicate that local news, talent and community focus trumps the bells and whistles of the metro down the road (with the exception of Kyle and Jackie O in Campbelltown).

Kyle and Jackie O are making the case this year that a radio show can aspire to be national, not local. They’d look at stories, like MONA’s toilet art, that transcend Tasmania to become part of a national conversation. Sometimes the angle on local stories that go big have backfired on radio presenters (Arj Barker ejecting a mum from his comedy show immediately springs to mind). Similarly, something that starts as a local missing persons story can snowball into a national true crime exploration, like ‘missing campers’ Russell Hill and Carol Clay in the Victorian Alpine region.

Radio’s great strength in news coverage is the immediacy of local news that impacts where you live. Last weekend a man tried to abduct a woman near my home. I heard on the radio he’d been arrested before I read or saw this news anywhere else. This crime and personal security update (a separate category in the topics by interest graph above but surely also considered local news too) preceded Matt Keen’s new appointment in the bulletin.

While I get most of my hyper local news now from social media, the response, to ‘incidents’ like that recent abduction, by police, local government, members of the community, etc, I still mostly obtain from radio.

The distinction between news that is local, national, international or a combination thereof is more complicated than listeners ‘being most interested in local news’. Even when it comes to sports are you listening for your local club results? AFL results? Or who won the Euro match overnight?

I’d be very interested in an additional study of what people are most looking for when they turn on the news and whether the graph above includes how many of these genres cross over depending on where you live.

What do you listen to news for?

Jen Seyderhelm is a writer, editor and podcaster for Radioinfo.

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