The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, University Technology Sydney and The Guardian Australia have launched the Rural News Network, designed to strengthen and support independent news coverage in rural, regional and remote communities.
Funded by a $1.37 million gift from the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation, the Rural News Network will provide:
- Industry experiences for five University Technology Sydney (UTS) journalism graduates through paid positions in independent regional newsrooms across the country
- A national syndication service for trusted regional contributors (independent newsgroups, freelancers and news sources)
- Assistance for the regional news ecosystems through the funding of impactful research and development into sustainable media business models
- A robust and independent platform for discussion and scrutinisation surrounding rural policy and political campaigns.
The announcement comes on the back of a turbulent decade for regional media, with major declines in resources, readership and investment. Between 2008 and 2019, 194 rural and regional publications have ceased their operations. A further 3,000 journalists have also lost their jobs since 2016. COVID-19 has escalated this decline.
Strong local media fosters a sense of cohesion and pride and is fundamental to a functioning democracy. However, regional media has been in decline for some 10 years.
The three-year philanthropic Rural News Network program aims to give regional and rural communities a voice, help young journalists break into the industry, strengthen independent rural newspapers and fund research into sustainable business models.
VFFF’s funding will assist Guardian Australia with building a network of trusted regional contributors and employing five UTS graduate journalists over the life of the project, based in rural communities and tasked with reporting on local stories.
Research by UTS’s Centre for Media Transition will examine models which might support a sustainable regional news presence in mainstream media.
Guardian Australia’s Rural and Regional Editor Gabrielle Chan will lead the project.
Chan said “This project will build a network of writers who know their regions. The Rural Network will nurture local talent, share local stories and build a bridge between metropolitan and country communities. It will scrutinise rural and regional policy seriously.”
Guardian Australia’s Editor Lenore Taylor said “I’m delighted that Gabrielle is leading this project. There is no more authoritative voice in Australia on these issues. I’m also very pleased that the VFFF and UTS were willing to collaborate with us as we set up this new approach to reporting. I think it has great potential to allow us to cover stories we otherwise would not, with insight and perspective of lived experience and local knowledge.”
The Rural Network’s first appointed graduate, Natasha May, will work from the Gilgandra Weekly’s newsroom, once lockdown restrictions permit. May will cover stories from the region for Guardian Australia’s rural network, as well as contribute to the Gilgandra Weekly’s local news coverage one day a week, as directed by the independent publication’s Editor, Lucie Peart.
The Centre for Media Transition at UTS will publish its first Annual Rural and Regional Media Report in September 2022 and has appointed Prue Clarke, Journalist and Founder of New Narratives, to bring her international experience to the project.
“There’s been widespread acknowledgment that the decline in regional media news outlets is damaging to those communities. But it is also damaging to the national conversation. Social cohesion in part depends on all Australian communities having the opportunity to be heard,” said Professor Monica Attard, Co-Director of Centre for Media Transition at UTS.
VFFF was established almost 60 years ago. The foundation aims to help communities and people impacted by social issues to lead change. Director Annabel White (daughter of Sally White, the oldest child of Sir Vincent Fairfax and Lady Nancy Fairfax) is passionate about giving rural and regional communities a voice and a seat on national debates.
“It would be wonderful to have deeply reported stories that are not only about drought, flood and fire, but which go to the underlying issues of regional areas – good and bad,” White said.
“Having stories told by reporters from these communities, will not only strengthen and authenticate the rural and regional voice, but will ensure there is insight and perspective to strengthen our democracy and hold misinformation at bay.”