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Byron Shire
April 21, 2021

Shrinking of regional newsrooms threatens civic engagement and debate, study shows

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Paul Bibby

A decline in the number of journalists covering local news in rural and regional areas means the public is less well informed about and connected to their communities, and is more easily manipulated, a new study has found.

Conducted by the Public Interest Journalism Initiative, the study found that the decline of the traditional media model had seen advertising dollars flowing to search engines and other online platforms rather than media outlets that employ journalists.

Shrinking newsrooms means less coverage of local issues and key regional institutions such as local councils, hospitals and business.

‘The picture that emerges is of a sharp and worrying decline in the amount of local news available to Australians,’ guest authors, Margaret Simons and Gary Dickson wrote.

‘Given that numerous pieces of research worldwide indicate a close relationship between journalism and the broader civic health of communities, this decline has serious implications for the agency, power and health of citizens in Australia’s regions.’

Simons and Dickson surveyed media managers employed by councils in metropolitan, regional and rural areas.

Almost half of respondents noted ‘some decline’ or ‘significant decline’ in local news coverage over the past five years.

‘If we look at the basic news media function of reporting on local government, more than a third of LGAs reported that no journalists attended local government meetings,’ the authors said.

‘Although the figures suggest that some journalists follow up without attending the meeting, the indications are that a large part of local government business goes entirely unscrutinised and unreported.’

Fewer journalists also meant less public accountability of interest groups and institutions.

‘Media is likely to become more partisan and selective, and increasingly controlled and manipulated by those who have the skills and interest to do so,’ the authors said.

‘This, in turn, is likely to lead to less social cohesion.’

The study forms part of the 2019 State of the Regionsreport released last week by the Australian Local Government Association.

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  1. Are you sure this is correct? It follows the same as any other job in what employers require in an employee
    When there is a shrinkage of employee numbers the ones working are to increase their workload and to cover for the workers who are no longer there so employees then do the work of two or maybe three people.
    That means the public are not less informed if journalists were doing the work they are supposed to be doing. Just because a newsroom shrinks does not mean the work done should shrink. It does not mean less news to the public.
    Some time ago there were great headlines in newspapers that a new journalism model was found and it was called “public journalism” that the public and the institutions of society would do their own journalism and writing and submit articles for publication. It was just like social media and no quality would be lost. Well, this is what employers said. This was a great breakthrough as public journalism did not have to be paid.
    Why is that model not working?


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