Readers’ loyalty tells the real story

BEING in the media spotlight can take some getting used to.

We journalists get the odd reminder of that when we have the beam turned on us, as was the case last week when the ABC did two stories on Australian Regional Media initiatives.

It's always interesting to see how they tackle it - and how our journalists respond to being the ones under scrutiny. It's nearly always a useful reminder about journalists' need for empathy.

The first piece, an ABC news item about our review of the future of the central Queensland Blackwater Herald, was well-rounded, fair and accurate.

The second piece was about ARM's looming plans to start charging digital (online) subscriptions.

The segment aired on Media Watch, a show the industry but hardly anyone else gravitates to.

Many of the facts were there - including that most of the people who go to our websites under a metered subscription model (where they get a number of stories free before being asked to pay) will never be charged.

But Paul Barry's piece was, as usual, presented with a slant. He questioned why people in regional areas of New South Wales and Queensland would pay for online material - and to prove his point he displayed a series of stories. They were some of the more quirky, offbeat ones we've done in recent months.

His implication was: would you seriously pay for that stuff? He displayed a lack of understanding of the different types of readers and what they consume - a casual reader and a heavy reader have vastly different tastes.

More worryingly for us, he didn't place a value on the great journalism we do every day and communities need and lap up. Stories like the Northern Star's fundraising effort that ensured a young man got a life-saving brain tumour operation recently; the Morning Bulletin's stunning cyclone coverage earlier this year; and the Gympie Times's high community engagement that has made it the paper with the most stable circulation in Australia.

Our 12 daily papers make a real difference in their communities. It was churlish not to acknowledge that.



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