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Opinion: Stories worth telling

'Why on Earth would anyone want to go into media?'

A few months ago I read a company I used to work for was going through some rough times—it was a familiar thing to read, because I’ve read it before.

I wasn’t so much alarmed as I was reminded of the resignation I’ve previously accepted: That the future of local news is dark, and sometimes it feels like I’m working in a graveyard.

But I’m still here. I’m one of the (apparently) few who can happily toddle along to a council meeting and find just about every item on the agenda interesting.

It’s this trait that has generated the most contact with the communities I have worked in over the years—despite the drama, the joy, the excitement and the tragedy that comes with news in a small town—it’s what’s going on at city hall that brings back the regular readers.

Two of the small towns I’ve worked in no longer have a print newspaper that can spare resources to send a reporter to municipal meetings, let alone cover a bake sale.

But why is an independent media special? Why is it somehow exceptional enough to merit keeping around?

There are many examples I could draw on, but I believe it comes down to this: There is a lot of information out there, and a journalist’s job is to make order out of chaos; to pull relevant information out of a mass of facts, figures, opinions, reports, presentations, observations, comments, backstory, history, conjecture, and more, and contextualize it in a way that makes sense and informs the reader.

The information is there and you can access it, but do you have the time? Do you know where to look, what to look for, who to ask, what the context is? Do you know what you can ask about or whether you should? If you get all the information, what do you make of it? How do you write a story that people can understand, or even want to read?

Or, you can support your local newspaper keeping tabs on things.

Without that support, having fewer reporters will bite harder and harder with every passing year as more knowledge is lost, replaced by people who think they can write but cannot; who think they are trustworthy, but give no reason to be trusted.

There are fewer and fewer reporters because this industry is seen as operating in a hostile and unfriendly environment.

Because, really, why on Earth would anyone want to go into media?

The government wants to control the message; politicians want to either be your best friend or outright kill you off; everybody’s got an agenda and you’re the enemy; advertisers think they have power over what journalists think and write; social media is full of armchair experts who think every journalist in the world knows everything and nothing.

Then there are those with grievances, whether it’s a politician or a business or someone on the street.

Despite the number of times people in positions of influence, and in positions of desperation have tried to wield power over me with threats or intimidation, I still love working in local news because I believe it’s important. Every ugly story is counterbalanced by a dozen positive ones.

Every journalist I have ever met has been passionate about news, believing an informed community is an important part of ensuring society runs smoothly, and on a personal level, a fulfilling way to contribute to said society. Yet, the number of journalists wanting to participate dwindles over time because of that ugliness. Why put up with it?

I’ve long held the belief that despite the industry shifting and shuffling itself over the past few decades, the traits the community values most in news—keeping an eye on things—would keep everything around.

I’m not so sure about that anymore. I’m not pessimistic, but I’m not optimistic, either.

What I am is afraid for the communities I’ve lived in and reported on.

Despite most of them being small towns that often feel they’re forgotten, or quiet, or unassuming, there are so many stories happening in every single one of them. Every local government is full of information people need to know; every sporting weekend is full of achievement and heartbreak; every community group is calling out for volunteers or overwhelmed with support. These are stories worth telling, information you need to know, knowledge you should have.

All of that would be wasted without a local, genuine news source, like water down a drain.

News deserts are depressing places—not because of an industry full of its own ego desperate to be relevant, but because communities lose the ability to see themselves in a mirror and reflect on… anything.

I love local news. I think it’s fulfilling, I think it’s important, and I think society will be meaner and dumber without it, but maybe that’s where we’re going.

For those who remain in the industry, at least there will be plenty to write about.