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Local Newspaper Journalists' Attitudes towards Their Changing Industry

The next speaker in this ANZCA 2017 session is Kathryn Bowd, whose interest is in the work practices of local journalists in regional areas in a changing communicative environment. Local journalists have long been key members and organisers of the local community, but like their metropolitan colleagues they are now feeling considerable economic pressures; regional newspapers have perhaps held up for longer than their larger city and national counterparts, but are now also struggling – and here, given their smaller staffing bases, the loss of a handful of journalists can have a disproportionately large impact on the news outlet.

Kathryn's focus is on regional or community newspapers in Australia and Canada; she studied these through an online survey of journalists in both countries, and especially also explored the impact of social media on professional practices. Additional interviews with selected journalists are slated to follow up on the survey results.

Most of the journalists surveyed were under 40; more than a third were aged between 21 and 30, and some 58% were female. 65% had bachelor degrees, and only 9% had postgraduate qualifications. 25% had more than 20 years' experience, and other large groups had more than 10 or more than 5 years' experience. The majority of them (54%) say that relationships between papers and community had changed dramatically over the past 5-10 years, and another 40% saw at least some change.

Key reasons for such changes included a broader range of choices for audiences; more opportunities for immediate feedback; audience moves away from print; limited local news interest amongst younger users; changing audience expectations; changing news priorities; decline in news quality; and decline in trust in the news media. Local media are far from unique in this: many such factors would be similar to the factors that metropolitan journalists are reporting, too.

There is a perception of substantial demographic differentiation between older and younger news users here – younger audiences, in particular, are supposed to have moved away substantially from reading local newspapers, and to access news online and via social media instead. More generally, journalists assumed that the growing ownership concentration in the media industry has led to a decline in audience trust, and that the increase in basic technical issues has led audiences to be frustrated with the declining quality of local news.

On the positive side, journalists appreciated the closer connections to their audiences, especially through new communication channels; however, there are also still significant splits within the journalistic cohort about these issues. But overall, 58% now feel that their papers are in a weaker position within the community than they used to be, with 20% feeling their connection to be stronger. Views on whether local newspapers had still a positive future remained surprisingly positive on balance, however – journalists felt that there was still an important role for them to fill.