Last week’s announcement that News Corporation is to close over 100 suburban and rural print editions with 14 titles disappearing completely, is more than sad. Not only does it damage local communities it also weakens the media’s role as the fourth estate, as a watchdog representing public interest.
Following the other recent announcement that AAP’s news service is also ending (notwithstanding the recent efforts from an impact investing consortium to buy parts of the service), as well as continual newsroom cut backs, it means that sources of professional reporting and investigation throughout Australia have been greatly diminished.
As an ex-journalist, and one who still deals with journalists every day, I am of course biased. But there can be no doubt of the significant role print media plays in keeping communities informed and holding to account the actions of those in positions of power.
The role of the media in asking questions of government; the judiciary; religious institutions; businesses (including financial institutions); and other pillars of society, and holding them to account, is an essential part of our democracy. It’s part of its checks and balances.
While, like every other profession, there are flaws in its approach, we have seen shining examples of its contribution in recent years.
For example, there have been Royal Commissions in the last few years that the media helped make happen by exposing areas others wanted to keep hidden. And where will whistle blowers go in future to air their concerns?
But the contribution of investigative journalism is more than what happens on the national stage.
There are countless examples where local corruption and wrong-doing have been brought to a community’s notice by local newspapers.
Local newspapers serve their readers in many ways. Reporting events, keeping people informed, letting readers know what is planned. They are simply part of the community fabric.
To paraphrase Michael Bloomberg, newspapers not only give you the news you know you want, they give you news you should know about but might not otherwise see.
Of course, TV and radio cover local stories, but electronic media will never be able to carry as many stories every day that print media does. And for how long will print and other media provide the time and resources for good investigative journalism?
Perhaps I’m getting carried away on my soapbox. But to me it’s more than sad that we are slowly but surely losing an important part of our society with fewer and smaller newsrooms. It’s also dangerous.
Perhaps one of the take-over offers for AAP will be successful. We may even see some strong independent news services develop on-line, and possibly even in print, for the many communities that are losing local media. In the fast-evolving world of social media, it could also be that other reliable and trustworthy news platforms will develop to serve local communities and also take on the role once played by investigative journalists.
Let’s hope so.