OPINION: Some people become journalists because they want to save the world. I wasn't one of them. For me, it was the best ticket I could get out of high school during a turbulent teenage year. I never regretted it. Journalism was perfectly suited to my character.
I spent 15 years working for daily newspapers - and one news agency - in Invercargill, Wellington, Sydney and Nelson before pulling the pin on my profession. I did the unthinkable by crossing the line to work for a MP.
Turns out it was a good move. He's a good bugger to work for, I'm constantly learning again, I keep connected with local issues, I'm meeting new people all the time and I still get a chance to help the public but in a different way now.
Ironically, I also get a dose of my own medicine through my dealings with the local media. Mostly it's fine because I understand why they do things the way that they do. But it can also be infuriating. Reporters occasionally make mistakes, completely disregard the assistance you provide, miss the best angle in a story or focus on something that you think is completely irrelevant. That's life.
The point is the media have an important role to play. Even if we don't agree with them, they have a unique position as a responsible, independent voice which usually represents the middle ground in any given dispute. It worries me greatly, in the age of the internet and social media, that voice is under threat and the public don't appreciate the magnitude of the crisis at hand.
Every one of my former employers has undergone widespread restructuring - one has ceased to exist altogether - in the years following my departure. The Nelson Mail is no different. A number of (I'm not privy to how many) reporting and advertising staff have and are being made redundant this year. Management positions are also being axed. The tragedy is that the restructuring hasn't solved the problem of falling advertising revenue and circulation for mastheads worldwide.
Nelson has other forms of print media and while they have their place, they don't carry the same purpose or integrity as the Nelson Mail, which has served the region since 1866. The Nelson Mail operates under traditional journalism practices with a clear division between advertising and editorial, meaning advertisers (and politicians) have absolutely no influence over news coverage. It also adheres to a Code of Ethics and Press Council complaints are treated very seriously. Readers benefit from this.
I suspect that readership of newspaper articles is probably as high as ever. That's because they're all online. Our family fights over the iPad every morning to pore over newspaper websites while we eat breakfast.
The problem - not for us but the newspaper industry - is that we aren't paying for this service. Newspapers have gone online in the hope that it will keep their mastheads alive. There's an element of truth to that but the reality is it negates the need to buy a newspaper.
My family still subscribes to the Nelson Mail and I'm happy to continue doing so because I know our community would be so much worse off if it were to disappear.
Dozens of jobs would go but, more importantly, that independent voice which is fundamental to democracy would be lost. Sure, there are thousands of Facebook pages you can wade your way through and endless bloggers trying to bring their own agenda to the fore but that's not particularly helpful for those of us with busy lives who want a thorough and regular local news service that can be relied on for fair, balanced and uncompromised reporting.
Editors need to show brave leadership while holding tight to core values but we, as consumers, are what drives change. We need to be prepared to pay for the news we read - whether that be online or in the newspaper - if we want to retain journalistic integrity in this country. Advertisers will naturally follow the crowd.
Once again, I haven't saved the world. The crisis facing our media isn't going to disappear. My only hope is that this article provokes thought and enables people to act in an informed manner. To me, that's what journalism is about.
- Karen Goodger lives in Nelson, worked as a journalist for 15 years and now works in Nelson MP Nick Smith's electoral office.
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