Why the fight for regional media impacts every one of us

CRITICAL: Telling our stories and holding those in power to account, local journalism plays an important role in our communities.
CRITICAL: Telling our stories and holding those in power to account, local journalism plays an important role in our communities.

Did you know a US media company you've never heard of and a bloke called Donald Trump have more to do with your local council meetings than you thought? Bear with me.

What's happening in the US right now is many things, but not dull.

In 2016, when legendary US news anchor Ted Koppel berated Fox News's Bill O'Reilly, he told him political journalism was supposed to be "objective and dull", and outlets like Fox had made it "subjective and entertaining", at a great cost to good governance.

How right he was - how right he is - when our news is gorging on pomp and bluster and lie and threat and screech and screed. It is never dull.

The current US president is no fan of real news, and it's inevitable he'll aim to create structural curbs on media outlets should he win, as well he might, on November 3.

It doesn't have to be as dramatic as fighting the First Amendment, the world's most famous clarion call of free speech.

The answers he needs are already there, and much less headline grabbing.

The media ownership laws that allowed Sinclair Media Group to become one of the most powerful forces in American news needed no constitutional argument.

The company owns 173 mostly local television stations across the US, and has been called ''probably the most dangerous company most people have never heard of''.

Its heavy right-wing agenda has meant a domination of local news content for Trump allies, and has reminded all democracy watchers of the power partisan decision-makers have in deciding how local or regional or rural news can and should run.

It's not about Trump, or conservative news outlets.

It's about the power of challenging decision-makers to work in the interest of local news when they decide how and why news is structured, governed, and funded.

For us, by simple and powerful extension, that means working for regional Australia.

The best news is dull. And all the more powerful for it.

There are no breathless chases of dodgy dealers or blaring sirens behind wild eyed reporters when a journalist sits down to monitor your local council.

To be a check and balance on their decision making by showing you what they're doing with your money is one of the quietest and greatest parts of democracy.

As is liaising with the police, working with community and business leaders, covering events, triumphs, hardships, and telling the stories of the ripe and roaring characters that make a town what it is.

That's what local journalism is, and it is under threat like never before. Don't wait until it's gone to find out just how much it is worth.

You may have seen former prime minister Kevin Rudd's call for a Royal Commission into the power of the Murdoch press garner more than 350,000 signatures or the US Department of Justice file an antitrust lawsuit against Google.

But a campaign by regional news outlets in Australia perhaps impacts you so much more.

Fronted by Ray Martin, the Save Our Voices campaign is a united appeal from regional newsrooms to the federal government, urging it to change the structures that determine how and why we tell stories across Australia.

It's a fight to recognise the value of truth and accountability in local governments across the land, and to recognise the small acts of the most colossal importance that keep the wheels of democracy turning in favour of the led, not the leaders.

Will it work? Is it the right path? Time will tell, but time is running out on the asking.

This fight is right now, and Save Our Voices campaign seeks to ask the right questions.

The most important news is not always the most interesting.

And there is more quiet and thorough and honest and dedicated and - yes - dull news holding this land together than we sometimes remember. Help it continue.

Glynn Greensmith is from the School of Media, Creative Arts and Social Inquiry at Curtin University.

  • Save Our Voices is supported by regional media organisations including Australian Community Media (publisher of this masthead). For more details on how you can help, visit www.saveourvoices.com.au
This story Why the fight for regional media impacts every one of us first appeared on The Canberra Times.