South Australian’s rural radio station in Mount Gambier is planning to close its local newsroom adn the locals aren’t happy. Shee how the ensuing debate unfolded on Crikey here:

Millionaire Factory plans a kick in the guts for Mt Gambier

Subscriber email – 24 January

A rural reporter writes:

Well, it’s official. South Australian radio station 5SE, in Mount Gambier, is planning to close its local newsroom. Apparently the news will now be done out of Bendigo, in Victoria. Yes, that’s right – Victoria.

5SE, you may recall, was part of the old DMG regional radio network. That network was sold to Macquarie Bank’s Regional Media company last year for $193.5 million.

Not many people are very happy about it, least of all the poor journo who’s probably going to get the sack when it all happens. They see it as another nail in the coffin of regional radio news, which is slowly being squeezed to death by managers who think broadcast journalism is a generic product, and can be slotted into the automated schedule from thousands of miles away.

It’s hard not to agree with that point of view. Since 1992, 1 in 3 radio journalist jobs have disappeared because of syndication. Regional newsrooms themselves are now just the jumping off point for ambitious reporters wanting to get into capital city radio, rather than a long-term career proposition, and a way to be involved in a community.

(By the way, that means the good ones leave, and the bad ones stay and drive the whole place crazy).

But I digress. Surely it can’t be a good thing to have fewer and fewer sources of news, with syndicated news broadcasts from central points? Don’t regional and rural communities warrant an actual media presence, so they can be kept abreast of what’s happening?

Media managers and owners in regional areas think they’re saving money by trimming the newsroom budget, but in actual fact, they’re losing it. That’s because a country newsroom is their biggest asset.

Here’s why. No matter how technology advances, radio’s strongest asset will always be localism and its immediacy. So much of radio now is computer-generated, and listeners still want that personal touch, that local feel. And the newsroom is one of the few areas left on the dial where they can get that. So cut out/cut down the newsroom and you might not lose any revenue – where else will advertisers go anyway? – but you will lose listeners, and their respect.

So will this gamble pay off for Radio 5SE and its Regional Media masters? Or will they fold faster than Superman on laundry day?

Only time will tell.

Why community radio is taking over in the bush

Subscriber email – 25 January

Community radio general manager, Barry Melville writes:

Your rural reporter’s story on the demise of 5SE Mount Gambier’s local newsroom is no surprise to the community broadcasting sector. With the increased networking and national syndication of commercial radio, community radio stations have increasingly filled the gap in local news and current affairs programming in rural and regional areas.

Last year’s Community Broadcasting Database revealed that more than a third of rural and regional community radio stations are the only radio services in their area or the only radio services producing any local content.

The recent McNair Community Radio National Listener Survey, conducted by McNair Ingenuity Research, found that of the 3.7 million Australians who tune into community radio each week, 1.4 million come from rural and regional areas. The main reason given by 58% of survey respondents in rural and regional areas for listening to community radio was for the local news and information it provides. Clearly, the reduction in local content by the commercial radio sector has been a key factor in the growing audience reach of community radio in Australia.

Barry Melville
General Manager
Community Broadcasting Association of Australia

Where to for regional radio?

Subscriber email – 29 January

Mark Day’s Media cover story in The Australian yesterday about the kind of year the media industry is going to have makes for some interesting – and at times worrying – reading.

Day basically talks about what the government is going to do once it gets its senate majority and changes the media ownership laws.

There’s speculation about whether or not amendments pushed for by the Democrats and independents the last time around will be included – and if the Nationals will take up their call.

Well, it’s got to a touchy subject for the Nats. It’s true: they have a strong rural base of voters, many of whom believe the media just isn’t interested in serving regional areas properly anymore. AND if the Nationals push for and get rules on minimum levels of ownership and local content for regional radio, it would be politically positive for them.

Yet I have to wonder if the government is simply going to pay lip service to the need for increased levels of local news and current affairs production in regional Australia – then introduce a regime that’s as unworkable as the current setup and won’t fix anything.

And regional radio desperately needs fixing.

So who are the players? First of all, there’s companies like Capital Radio and Grant Broadcasters, who like to brag about their connectedness to the communities they broadcast in, but aren’t as plugged in as they think they are. Capital Radio is especially notorious, as you may recall, for its unwillingness to spend money on basics like office supplies.

Will that change once the new laws are passed? Will they become a target for buyers? How will they react if they’re made to raise the levels of local news and other local content? Will they say they can’t afford it?

That doesn’t seem to be an excuse that Macquarie Regional Radioworks can use. They spent almost $200 million last year on DMG’s old network, so they can hardly claim to be skint.

Radioworks have been too quick to say they’re going to keep operations “live and local” (to quote from the Oz story).

Yet they’ve just announced the closure of the 5SE Mount Gambier newsroom. It’s not exactly live and local when the news is being done from another station in another state – and different time zone.

Reply to Andrew Thompson from Rural Reporter

Dear Andrew,

I’m glad you’ve taken the trouble to reply to my story of 30 January. It’s high time people started talking about the state of regional radio. Here’s my response:-

No, I didn’t include you in my story – but I will count you in (in future) now I know you’re there.

Yes, it will be nice for people in those rural areas with Radio 2 transmitters to have something else to listen to. It might encourage local/terrestrial stations to lift their game a bit – and God knows some of them need to.

And yes, you’re very forward thinking, investing in the new technology now. When everyone catches up to you in 5-10 years time, you won’t have to worry about that capital expenditure.

BUT alarm bells rang for me when you said “because Radio 2 is designed for digital radio broadcasting it is able to tailor news broadcasts and other programs for specific towns and regions.”

What does that mean? Is it just a fancy way of saying you’re going to network the crap out of everything, like everybody else, but use a different technology to do it?

How do you intend to provide news services for this network you’re talking about, especially in Canberra?

Let me tell you, you will absolutely flog the opposition there if you had a serious commercial news service.

I’m not trying to rain on your parade: I welcome anything that’s going to shake up these rural radio cowboys who think they’re God’s gift to radio, but have actually managed to drive the bulk of their listening audience away to community stations and the ABC. (They maintain their advertising revenue simply because there’s no alternative outlet).

I really hope you are the saviour of regional radio – but I’m not going to start celebrating yet. I want to see what you’ve got up your sleeve first.

Rural Reporter