Country press survival the focus of newly-funded research project

Researchers from the Alfred Deakin Institute (ADI), in partnership with Country Press Australia, are leading an innovative new Linkage Project investigating the civic future of Australia’s rural and regional media.

At a time when the future of news and public interest journalism is facing unprecedented crisis, this project, ‘Media innovation and the civic future of Australia’s country press’, aims to develop and road-test an innovations agenda for Australia’s country media in the digital era.

The project will be led by Associate Professor Kristy Hess alongside Associate Professor Lisa Waller, Professor Matthew Ricketson and Mr Bruce Morgan, Executive Director of Country Press Australia and the Victorian Country Press Association.

Associate Professor Kristy Hess alongside Associate Professor Lisa Waller and Professor Matthew Ricketson.

Reaching out

Almost 30 per cent of Australia’s population, close to 8 million people, live outside major cities in rural and regional areas less well serviced by the media than their urban counterparts.

“Rural media serves an incredibly powerful role in the local towns and cities that they serve. It’s very well established that regional press in particular play a social capital building role, helping people to develop a sense of belonging within their community,” said A/Professor Hess.

“But there are clear challenges facing rural news outlets in this digital environment. The media landscape has changed considerably in the past couple of decades with the introduction of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.”

A rural farm house set amongst some green hills in the countryside.

Unlike other parts of the world, there has been no comprehensive Australian research assessing the health of the nation’s established country press. This project will be the first comprehensive assessment of the sector’s civic value and provide urgently-needed evidence and strategies to rethink media innovation, and inform industry practice and federal communications policy.

“Millions of people who live in rural and regional communities around Australia depend on the country press for relevant news and information. We’ll be engaging closely with community and stakeholder groups throughout this project to generate evidence and resources that can be successfully integrated into media practice and policy,” said A/Professor Hess.

“Our country press is a vital part of our national infrastructure and we are committed to finding solutions for its long-term sustainability.”

Fostering connection

Linkage Projects are funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) to promote the development of long-term relationships between higher education organisations, industry and end users for the economic, social or cultural benefit of the nation.

Longstanding partners Deakin University and Country Press Australia (CPA) have collaborated for more than 25 years on the nation’s only education program practising regional and rural early career journalists.

A commercial printer printing a newspaper.

“The project additionally builds upon two recent pilot projects funded by Deakin and CPA that examined circulation trends and stakeholder perceptions of country newspapers. Given Deakin’s commitment to rural and regional communities explicitly outlined in our charter, we’re ideally placed to lead these types of research projects,” said A/Professor Hess.

The research project will ask two broad questions: What are the challenges and opportunities across social, economic, cultural, political and technological contexts that influence the sustainability of Australia’s country press in the digital era? And how can insights from audiences, news sources and industry leaders into the civic value of Australia’s country press inform a model of innovation for the sector and future policy directions?

Outcomes will include a stronger, more collaborative news network that can implement the media innovations model developed through the project to increase quality news and information flows and ensure the sustainability of newspapers serving rural areas.

A sign of commitment

In a show of its commitment to innovative, interdisciplinary research, humanities and social sciences researchers from the Alfred Deakin Institute are Chief Investigators in three of the four Awards that Deakin University received in the recent Linkage Projects round.

Associate Professor Andrew Singleton is a Chief Investigator on a project led by the School of Communications and Creative Arts’ Dr Leonie Rutherford, ‘Discovering a ‘good read’: Pathways to reading for Australian teens’, and Professor Yin Paradies is a Chief Investigator on a project led by the Faculty of Health’s Professor Peter Miller, ‘Impacts of Banned Drinkers Register Re-introduction in the Northern Territory’.

Deakin’s Institute for Frontier Materials’ Professor Patrick Howlett will also lead a Linkage Project titled ‘Next-generation solid-state batteries to drive an automotive revolution’.

With this announcement, the total number of ARC-funded projects led by ADI members is now 21, with ARC-funded projects featuring an ADI member as a Chief Investigator rising to eight.

View the full list of projects.

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