Two years ago, Bourke community station 2WEB saved the local newspaper from closure and now operates The Western Herald along with its radio station.
Chairman Ian Cole told the CBAA Conference that local news has become more important that ever as other media companies pull away from local reporting.
“We didn’t want the local newspaper to go the way of other local papers and die. There was sentimentality attached to it, but practicality as well.
“We wanted to ensure there continued to be an independent news source in North West NSW. Commercial media hasn’t been really interested in servicing this area because it doesn’t have enough people to be viable.”
The non profit co-operative group that runs 2WEB has integrated the operations of the newspaper into its business to serve the audience. It also allows the organisation to offer a wide range of advertising and sponsorship strategies to its business supporters.
The co-op now has 5-6 journalists who work across the radio station and the newspaper. “We pooled our operations so we could put more resources into news,” said Cole.
“A local news service is essential for the area, and also attracts people to listen to us as well.
“Local news is a hook for people to listen, so is local sport, which is very important in this region. Weather and emergency information are also essential in our area when there are floods or fires.
“The most important thing is localism. Community radio has always filled a void for local news, but that has become even more of an imperative now as others are stripping all the localism out of what they do… Community radio is coming into its own because it can be so local.”
Speaking in the same session, digital journalism trainer Corinne Podger said “the newspaper business model has struggled more than the radio business model. That can be a downside because there may not be as much pressure to innovate.”
She urged community broadcasters to think more widely about what they have to offer and evolve their delivery and content to match the audience’s expectations and consumption habits.
“Everyone can be a publisher, but what makes you a journalist is a decision to abide by guidelines and to have a journalistic mission,” she said. One of the principles for community journalism is to connect closely with your audience to uncover important local stories and bring under reported issues to notice.
Jacky Barker, the founder of the hyper-local news site InTheCove discovered there was a hunger for local news in the Sydney suburb of Lane Cove and has succeeded in finding an audience and revenue for her publication.
“We have a local reporter system where people submit content which is vetted, fact checked, then published.
“Local news brings audience that you can monetise. You may not directly monetise all the news content itself, but the other content around it can be monestised, as can the spin offs from your main platform, your newsletters, events and anything else you develop.”
She urged local news publishers not to put all their eggs in any one social media basket, because social media platforms can make changes that could disadvantage you. She highlighted the power of the humble email newsletter because “that is the only audience you really own for yourself.”