It is only as a regional journalist that I have become a strong advocate of the importance of community. Yes, I valued community before I was a regional journalist, but through my work I have come to value community, and become involved in it, on a deep and personal level.
I work for a weekly, one-journalist paper (thought I do job share with another journalist). That one role is responsible for everything editorial. This is where we differ from metropolitan newspapers. A country journalist has to be a versatile all-rounder.
Whereas a metro journalist would generally be responsible for one thing, and one thing only, at a one-journalist paper, I am responsible for it all – I interview people and I write the stories – local news, sports, school rounds, feature writing, advertorials, as well as taking my own photographs, writing my own headlines and captions, editing my own work, sub editing, liaising with correspondents, digital journalism and social media, and the list doesn’t stop there. While the variety makes the job interesting, the range of duties is usually a challenge time-wise.
As a country journalist I am deeply enmeshed in the community I work in – I live in it, I socialise in it, I participate in it. And because of the paper’s reliance on community and the community’s reliance on the paper, there is nothing more important than relationships.
Contacts must be nurtured and relationships developed. Our relationships with community members are such that they ‘drop in’ on a regular basis for a chat. Often stories come out of those visits, sometimes they don’t – but the visits themselves are part of the nurturing of the relationship. Again, this can be a challenge – the boundaries between work and personal relationships can become blurred.
We tell people’s stories, we celebrate their achievements and keep our audience up to date on what affects them. We go above and beyond, often attending community events out of working hours to gather news and photographs.
We advocate for our community – an issue that was of concern to the community I work in was that of the local train station facilities being permanently locked. This meant men were urinating in the gardens, and elderly people were sitting waiting, sometimes for hours on end when the train was late, without being able to go to the toilet. It was the paper’s decision to take on the issue that resolved the situation in the community’s favour.
We promote our community – we have several large community events in our annual calendar that we work hard on promoting, and as a result we have seen phenomenal growth in a couple of festival weekends, year after year.
There are definite rewards for a country journalist. One of my first stories was about the plight of a young family with six children, all under the age of eight. The mother, only 28 years old, was receiving treatment for aggressive breast cancer, and her husband had a back injury and could not work. When we ran the story, people came out of the woodwork donating money and toys in preparation for Christmas. And a national TV program producer became interested in the story.
However, the favourite part of my job is simply celebrating people’s achievements – people in our community who are quietly going about achieving extraordinary things. Meeting passionate people fuels my passion in turn.