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How technology is transforming local news

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The news came as a depressing reminder of the realities of traditional TV news.

WIN News will cut jobs and no longer provide dedicated local TV bulletins to regions across Victoria and Queensland, the network announced on Monday.

BENDIGO ADVERTISER – MAY 24

The demise of local TV news has been coming former 20 years. As a 15 year old aspiring journalist, I did work experience with Win News in Ballarat. I remember the News Director telling me how tough it was for the industry. The advertising market had crashed and there was no sign of recovery.

Ahron as a 15 year old at Win News in Ballarat in 1997
Ahron as a 15 year old at Win News in Ballarat in 1997

At that time, Win News presented all of the Victorian news out of its Ballarat state headquarters. I remember watching the anchor Denis Walter present seven bulletins (six pre-recorded and one live) one after another. Denis is a great presenter and showed how much he cared about the local community.

But I wondered about how much you could really know about what’s going on in say, Mildura, when you live in Geelong. Regardless, they had journalists on the ground in those regional centres.

The other thing I noticed was how archaic the systems were. Not just in terms of technology. But all those people, all that great, for half an hour of news. Each reporter would cover three stories a day, and a cameraman/editor would rush along as well. Everyone hoping for a traveller (a story that could be shared across all bulletins for the state).

POPULATION SEACHANGE

But everyone was a slave to the fundamental flaws of TV News to date. It’s cumbersome, and the story is only as good as the pictures. The cost of operating satellites and transmission towers are enormous. I don’t know how they keep the lights on. Compare that to people using a device they already own on a mobile network they pay for to access video and written content they are interested in. We live in a world full of niches. How does a half hour bulletin produced from a different state even compete with that?

Fast forward to 2021, and the retreat of local TV news comes at a time when the population is doing the exact opposite. Net migration to Australia’s regions is at a record high.

Supercharged by the desire to get out of the cities thanks to COVID lockdowns, but also because of technology. With the NBN now up and running in more places, ideally there’s very little difference between working from home in the city, and working from home somewhere a bit further out.

Of course, public transport is still pretty slow in comparison with Europe or Asia, but if you don’t need to travel, many Australians are discovering that a tree change or sea change is a great way to improve their liveability, and cut their costs. After all, the mid 20th century saw a huge number of Europeans migrate to Australia to get away from living on top of each other and to the promise of a quarter acre block.

THE POWER OF LOCAL

I began my career at a local newspaper called the Southern Peninsula Local. It was the bedrock of the local community, and was the independent alternative to the News Corp owned Leader.

My editor, Zoe Sterling, was a brilliant mentor and a fabulous editor. She didn’t just care about the local community, she thoroughly enjoyed sticking it up to authority, whether that be the council or the local politicians. The Local (which people often confused with the pub), was owned by three people who listened to the community and created something unique and special. People were willing to pay 55 cents for it, and the advertisers loved to be involved.

Ahron as a newspaper journalist at The Local, aged 18. With his mother, Carmen, and Zoe Sterling (right)
Ahron as a newspaper journalist at The Local, aged 18. With his mother, Carmen, and Zoe Sterling (right)

Why? Because it owned the community. We all knew every aspect of how it worked and why, and who was in charge or what was to blame.

They eventually sold to a former metro newspaper man who came in, changed everything, dropped the local from The Local, and focused too much on Portsea real estate. Within a year the paper had folded.

Now Australians are turning their backs on cities and moving to the country.

The ABS said a net 43,000 Australians moved to regional areas from capital cities in 2020. That is more than double the number in 2019.

The ABS says a net loss of people from the capitals has been seen before, but the amount of people staying in the regions is new.

NEW EXPECTATIONS

And city people bring with them city expectations. There are already articles about how cosmopolitan voters moving to regional areas may in fact change voting patterns and reduce the conservative grip on regional seats. But that’s a story for another day.

My point is, when John and Linda from Malvern move to Woodend, they don’t just expect great coffee when they arrive, they also expect the same level of infrastructure and service.

Look at the US, where the decline of local news coverage is being blamed for the decline in standards in politics.

As the author illustrates, the laws of supply and demand aren’t working for local news. Even when viewers turned to news in record numbers last year to find out about lockdowns and health advice, the revenue for those local news outlets collapsed dramatically.

The pandemic has accelerated a crisis which has been a long time coming for local news.

The other problem is… the audience doesn’t really know much about what’s happening to local news. Even though in the industry, we can feel and see our colleagues losing their jobs.

In late 2018, 71 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that their local news media was doing very or somewhat well financially, even though only 14 percent said they had paid for local news in the past year.

PEW RESEARCH CENTRE

TECHNOLOGY IS ON OUR SIDE

But like every part of our economy, whenever an established presence starts to enter crisis territory, usually the solution isn’t far away.

My father lives in a regional area and I visit him when Melbourne isn’t in lockdown. Five years ago, he was glued to the local news on TV and had the local newspaper delivered every day. During COVID, the newspaper stopped printing, yet his appetite for local news didn’t stop with it.

He turned to his local community Facebook group. He loves it because if there’s a crash on the freeway, he’ll know about it long before a traffic reporter will read it out on the radio. If a pub is closing, he’ll know about it long before a journalist has picked up the story, passed it via the editor, gone out to cover it and compiled a piece for a newspaper that no longer publishes.

The fact is, local news is still happening, it’s just not happening through the three traditional ways – TV, radio and print.

Of course, just like when TV arrived, the movie business found a way to survive. They made fewer but bigger movies, with budgets that TV networks could never imagine. That worked until Netflix came along.

NOT A GOOD TIME FOR MIDDLE-MEN

Following the news from Win, I fear local TV networks across Australia will become nothing more than relay towers for US content and reality shows made in and for the sorts of demographics that buy from Coles in Sydney and Melbourne.

With the sudden rise of streaming services directly from Hollywood studios, how long until people realise that for $10, they can cut out the middleman.

When you find yourself in a situation where your structural costs to operate are so high that you have to pair back or cut the very thing that makes you unique, well, good luck with your business.

Facebook community groups and noticeboards have become the go to place for so many people right around the Australia. It’s a magnificent space of shared ideas and public feedback.

The future of local TV news won’t be just on the TV. It’ll come from within the community, using technology that is now in everybody’s hands. The divide between city and regional living and expectations are dramatically narrowing and the upsides are incredible.

The answer is doing it smarter, and putting local first.

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Singers dedicate ‘F— you’ anthem to U.S Supreme Court

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The song was an anthem for many millennials growing up, it’s a catchy song that embodies how we feel sometimes, but now the tune has a new reason to be remembered

Pop sensation Olivia Rodrigo joined artist Lily Allen in singing the iconic song “F— You” in response to the Supreme Court overturning of Roe V. Wade.

Glastonbury festival is taking place in England and the five-day event has already had some choice moments against the supreme court ruling.

American artist Phoebe Bridgers asked the audience to chant “F— the Supreme Court” during her set

This iconic mash-up of teen icon Rodrigo with the icon of millennial youth, Allen, is one that will surely be remembered.

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Mr Happy Face crowned world’s ugliest dog

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Mr Happy Face has a reason to smile, his crooked head and hairless body has received a crown

With a tuft of punk-style hair and a tongue sticking out, a dog named Mr Happy Face has been crowned the world’s ugliest pooch.

Organisers say the world-renowned event “celebrates the imperfections that make all dogs special and unique”

The 17-year-old pooch defeated nine competitors to take the top title

The champ was adopted as a rescue last year by a 41-year-old Arizona musician

She says Mr Happy face enjoys “sleeping, snoring, woofing in his sleep and making odd sounds when he is happy”.

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Body behind Eurovision “understands the disappointment” over next host city

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Ukraine’s Kalush Orchestra won the Eurovision contest in May, capturing the hearts of the world

After taking out the win, that would mean Ukraine would host the competition next year.

But the European Broadcasting Union announced last week it could not be held in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion.

The body behind Eurovision now says it “understands the disappointment” over its decision not to hold next year’s song contest in Ukraine.

The EBU said it was in talks with the BBC to host the contest in the UK.

That’s because British entrant Sam Ryder came second in this year’s contest with his single Spaceman.

The announcement was met with disappointment by Ukrainians but the E-B-U doubled down on its position, saying in a statement that it “fully understands the disappointment that greeted the announcement”.

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