By Matthew Hall
If we asked four young print journalists about their experiences starting careers in country Victoria, what kinds of stories would we find?
The dilemma facing regional journalism is stark. Latest figures from the Public Interest Journalism Initiative (PIJI) show that 101 print editions have closed since 2019, these losses disproportionately impacting rural and regional coverage.
But the stories we unearthed paint an optimistic and nuanced picture, challenging the notion that there’s no career to be made outside the city.
Amongst some of the newest arrivals on the country news scene, we found a determination to adapt the print product, a deep belief in print’s power to create place and community, and an appreciation for the richness of rural life and close community bonds.
One young journalist has worked her way up to the role of senior journalist at a thriving weekly in her hometown of Ballarat, having started less than five years ago. This masthead is new on the scene but has reinvigorated an age-old business model with an emphasis on positive community news.
“The feedback we get is that people love reading our paper, because it’s got really great community stuff, and positive news that otherwise they would have missed,” she said.
“It’s definitely an alternative people have wanted for a long time.”
In Benalla and Mildura, two young sports reporters are engaged by the extent that their work covers the beating heart of their communities, creating a sense of connection to people and place that metropolitan outreach could never replace.
“I think we’re just that local voice. That’s something we do better than anyone else, empowering these communities by telling the stories that matter to them,” one said.
“It’s about proximity to you, the reader.”
The job is not without its pressures. A 2021 survey by MEAA found that more than half of 200 regional journalists surveyed couldn’t picture themselves still working in journalism in five years.
But for one interviewee, the move from India’s largest city to a quiet Victorian town has offered a richness of experience in rural life, and new sense of belonging.
“The people I report on don’t want to just tell me their story, they want to build a connection with me,” she said.
“That newsroom, I feel like that’s the one place where I 100 per cent belong.”
No interviewee thinks their newspaper is a tired relic of the past. For these young reporters, they help create and sustain the very communities they serve.
Related: What's good about the Ballarat Times?
Attribution for first image: "Harry Phillips and staff at his printing press c1912" by Blue Mountains Library, Local Studies is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Second image: MPC