By Hamish McDouall
Sometimes the media seems to ignore the old adage that ‘all news is local’.
At times of course, strange times when a man the colour of the Oompa Loompas can get elected “Leader of the Free World”, it is only natural that international news moves to the front page, or just after the on-the-hour pips.
But the rest of the time? Most of us want to read about the car accident on Carlton Ave, or the young guy from Castlecliff who has just been selected for the Youth Olympics.
News isn’t something that happens a flight away. It happens here.
Just look at Council. There are people throughout Whanganui who can talk cogently about pedestrian crossings, or earthquake prone buildings, or are even amateur experts on the waste water treatment plant. The same people don’t have a clue about what’s happening in the Beehive, or who the president of France is.
For many people, local government is an intimate thing – you see our councillors on a daily basis – can talk to them in the street, or ring them up to complain about a dog or a drain (don’t get any ideas!). It’s no wonder Whanganui has one of the best voter turnouts in the country.
But too often the major media ignore the local aspect. A local newspaper might be a little different – there are still reporters in the field in Whanganui looking for a scoop which is heartening – but then you read a headline which misspells Sarjeant Gallery and you are jolted back to the fact that much of the rag is piped from Auckland.
As for TV – it is rare that a reporter arrives in the city without doing a veneer of a story mashing together little bits of prejudice and file footage.
There is also an issue with negative news. There is a horrible adage among the established media – ‘if it bleeds it leads’.
This has its rationale that more readers, listeners, or viewers consume the media when this happens. I have no doubt that is true – we are all clickbait victims – but it almost inevitably means we build up a skewed picture of the community we live in. It becomes all about assaults, house fires, councillors yelling past each other.
What about Otamatea Olive Oil winning medals, Andre Bronniman winning the National Portraiture award, Rachel Stewart taking out a Canon Media Award for best opinion writer, Samuel Roach winning the best plasterer in the nation, Whanganui High School winning the Stage Challenge, Airini Beautrais winning Landfall’s essay of the year award, or St Mary’s School being verified by Guinness World Records as Sport Staking record-holders?
A completely different picture of our diverse achieving community emerges.
And in times of crisis local news becomes very, very important indeed.
Eighteen months ago there was a storm in the Kapiti area, with a downpour and flash floods around evening drive time. SH1 was awash, the main trunk line close, and transport was all getting pretty screwy for commuters. At the very time the deluge was occurring Radio New Zealand – broadcast from a building not 40 mins away – was not even reporting there was either traffic or weather issues.
In fact, they didn’t report the issues fully until the next morning. There was no sense of crisis. It was the Kapiti Access Radio which was reporting the issues live, with the announcer feeding back texts and phone calls and his own observations to car radios all around the coastal strip.
People were kept safe.
A month later we had our weather event – and on 20 June, 2015 and over the next days one of the main sources of communication was Facebook – particularly for the isolated communities up the river valley.
So, I’m excited by the launch of this local news website. I wish everyone involved the best of luck.
*Hamish McDouall is mayor of Whanganui