How important is the media in remote areas?
A Deakin researcher is investigating how the media shapes the way we perceive “community” in rural areas.
With population resettlement to rural and regional areas on the rise, it’s crucial that regional people feel connected to their communities.
Dr Kristy Hess, a Senior Lecturer in Communication at Deakin University, argues that the current crisis in the news media has significant potential to affect community connection in remote areas.
“Traditional print papers are struggling to be viable, are closing down or becoming centralised,” Dr Hess said.
Along with other colleagues at Deakin, she is working on developing a project to assess the sustainability of local newspapers in Australia in the digital era, with support from Country Press Australia and other potential funding sources.
“We are gradually shifting into digital news practices, but there does appear to be a continued demand for printed newspapers in rural and regional Australia,” she said.
Dr Hess is also designing a project to explore how community newcomers use different media platforms (from social media to radio and newspapers) to develop a sense of connection when they move to rural and regional areas. She hopes both of these projects will contribute to greater understanding of the need to sustain quality journalism in rural Australia and how it improves connection, which leads to improved mental health and, ultimately, less anti-social behaviour.
“Local established media seems to play an important role in building cohesion and a sense of community, but it’s unknown how this will be maintained in the digital space,” she said.
Her research will investigate how newcomers adapt to a locality and forge connections through the media to the place, organisations and people in their new locality.
“Part of the research will investigate what everyday people recognise as a quality news platform and how the level of quality relates to the ability to connect to people,” she said.
“There have been a number of senate enquiries and government papers on this topic. Of particular concern, the ABC has withdrawn resources from regional news, resulting in news gaps in isolated areas. While research suggests there’s an increasing demand for niche news (news that provides information not easily accessed elsewhere), local journalism is facing a range of issues and threats.”
Dr Hess’s previous research with Deakin colleague Associate Professor Lisa Waller shows that more needs to be done to sustain rural and regional communities and their media landscape.
“Unfortunately, local news outlets, particularly those owned by Fairfax or Newscorp, have centralised local news resources and, as a result, starved some newspapers of local knowledge,” she said.
“In some cases, metropolitan journalists don’t understand the specifics of a particular country town, even though they are asked to write headlines for that area.
Recently the Australian Government made the future of public interest journalism a national priority, acknowledging the need for increased support for rural and regional news services.
“I, among many other scholars, have ascertained that local media really does help to facilitate social capital and build connection. The government supports this for these reasons – we need quality information to lubricate the wheels of democracy,” she said.
Dr Hess worked as a journalist in regional Australia for 10 years before joining Deakin, where she is academic director of the Country Press Australia / Deakin University Community Journalism Program. This program educates practicing rural and regional cadets across Australia, through a three-year degree (post-cadetship).
Kristy Hess is one of Australia’s most highly-regarded communications researchers. Her research on media and journalism has been published nationally and internationally and she was recently named as Australia’s leading communications researcher by “The Australian” newspaper. “The Australian” and the “League of Scholars” collected publicly-available data across more than 250 research fields to identify leading researchers and universities on the basis of length of time in academia, number of citations and how often their work appeared in the Top 20 Google Scholar journals.
A true journalist and sceptic, she said: “It’s wonderful recognition, but there are always limitations with big data. It’s important to note that big data has implications, in both journalism and academia.”