The COVID-19 pandemic is providing challenges unlike any we have seen before. Every single family and business is impacted to some extent, and I am mindful of the fact that regional media companies are not immune.
However I am concerned at reports that circulated on Tuesday afternoon that Australian Community Media (ACM) is looking to shut down some of its mastheads, including some smaller ones in my electorate.
The Wellington Times and Narromine News are important parts of the fabric that makes up those towns, and for that matter so is the Nyngan Observer, which shares its journalist with the Narromine News.
Our local television networks and radio stations also provide material that informs us, and it is important that every effort is made to ensure their survival.
Through droughts, floods, bushfires and now a pandemic these outlets have been there for their communities, and that needs to continue into the future.
I am unashamedly a son of regional media, and I have staff members who also got their starts in the game. We all have friends in regional media who are impacted. But it’s not just for personal reasons that this is an important discussion to have right now.
The media landscape has changed dramatically over the past few years – there is no escaping that.
There has been a massive push towards online content, and advertising revenue across all mediums has been harder than ever to come by.
At the same time staff at our regional media outlets are being asked to do more with less. They are hard-working people who contribute so much to our communities and they deserve our support, especially now.
It is only natural that every business is looking at ways to survive the COVID-19 pandemic, but I am hopeful this situation will not be used as a convenient way for ACM to kill off publications such as the Wellington Times, Narromine News and Nyngan Observer, and move on people employed by those mastheads.
Similarly, I would hope that television networks won’t be using this situation as a way to close down news services, as we have already seen with the demise of WIN’s nightly bulletins in recent times.
At the end of the day, these are decisions for the management of these privately-owned organisations, but if consolidation is required, perhaps the staff that are likely to be impacted could be moved to roles at major outlets to help improve the quality and output of those, and ultimately help turn things around more quickly.
Having been on both sides of regional media, I can vouch for its effectiveness in providing answers on local issues, connecting members of the community, and keeping all levels of government accountable.
At the moment there are so many unknowns in the world but the one thing I do know is that we will overcome this pandemic.
When that happens I hope our local newspapers, TV and radio news services are still around.