Researchers from Deakin University are seeking to ensure the future of high quality, local journalism in rural and regional Australia to enhance democracy and the social fabric of communities beyond the metropole.
With almost 30 per cent of the nation’s population living in rural and regional areas, the country press represents a vital part of Australian journalism.
However, the distance from major cities means rural news providers are not as well serviced by local news media as metropolitan outlets.
Deakin’s project ‘Media innovation and the civic future of Australia’s country press’, investigates the challenges and opportunities across social, economic, cultural, political and technological contexts that can affect the sustainability of Australia’s press, particularly in the digital era.
The project will also explore how insights from audiences, news sources and industry leaders can inform policy in the sector.
This research is funded by the Australian Research Council, as part of their linkage program.
Led by Associate Professor Kristy Hess from the Alfred Deakin Institute for Citizenship and Globalisation, the project researching Australian country newspapers is the largest of its kind.
It will provide urgently needed strategies to rethink media innovation and provide evidence to inform industry practice.
In collaboration with international scholars, community and stakeholder groups and industry experts over the course of the project, the research will build on two recent pilot projects funded by Deakin and the Country Press Association that explored circulation trends and stakeholder perceptions of country newspapers.
Australian news under threat
Regional communities deserve the same high standard of journalism found in metropolitan news outlets.
Deakin’s research seeks to develop sustainable models that can be used when developing federal communications policies, and to ensure that local news can survive the digital landscape.
Millions of people living in rural and regional communities around Australia depend on the country press as a reliable news source. But in the digital era, the future of news and public interest journalism is under threat.
The media landscape has seen rapid change over the past few decades, especially with the introduction of social media giants like Facebook and Twitter that have contributed to issues of misinformation and fake news.
Reliable news platforms are considered an essential service, important to enhancing democracy and wellbeing in rural communities.
This is a timely project and is the first comprehensive research assessing the health of Australia’s established country press.
A stronger, more collaborative media network
It is anticipated that the project will lead to a stronger, more collaborative news network, resulting in the implementation of a media innovations model that will improve the quality of news and information flow and ensure the sustainability of newspapers in rural areas.
The research has already had an influence in government and media policy. In 2020, it informed a senate inquiry submission led by Deakin University on media diversity.
It also informed a submission to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) on the mandatory bargaining code.
In December 2020, the research team hosted a local news panel at the Australian Journalism Research and Education conference at which the topic of quality rural journalism was discussed.
Deakin has partnered with Country Press Australia, who represent the rights of regional media outlets in negotiations with industry and government.
Country Press Australia are also educating the next generation of regional journalists through a dedicated Deakin course.
The future of news
In February 2021, preliminary data from a survey conducted in November 2020 was presented to the Queensland Government during a meeting with Country Press Association representatives.
It will inform more than 174 local newspaper operations across Australia. The survey is the biggest of its kind in Australia, and records responses from 4000 local newsreaders.
In 2021, the research team will conduct a survey of social media users and interviews with media proprietors, journalists and editors to advance a media innovations agenda within the local news sector.
Kristy Hess is an Associate Professor of Communication at Deakin University.