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Go bush: the value of rural media

by Richard Coombs

When you think of the Australian media landscape, it’s natural to immediately think of the big cities the and state-wide and national news outlets. However, if you’re looking to develop a truly national profile, it would be remiss of you to neglect regional and rural media.

In 2016, rural and regional media in Queensland went through a massive shift. APN’s regional media arm was officially snapped up by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp after the deal received approval from the Australian Competition and Consumer Authority in late December.

News inherited APN’s 12 regional daily mastheads, as well as its 60 non-daily and community mastheads. Couple that with the sprinkling of Fairfax Regional publications in Queensland, and the handful of remaining independent publications in the state, there are plenty of options for you if you’re looking to expand your national profile.

Despite the fact most of Australia’s population lives on the coast, positive media coverage and your organisation’s reputation in rural and regional areas should not be dismissed.

One thing the News Corp deal may do for some of these regional publications is provide a lifeline for them for decades to come. But what it won’t do is take away their fierce independence, and that’s where the value lies.

The challenge for those who are not engrained in the regional community is communicating effectively with these publications. It’s a separate skill set that is an important one to have in your armoury.

‘City slickers’ and ‘country folk’ often joke about the differences between the ‘burbs and the bush’, but when it comes to media in regional and rural areas there are real differences you should be aware of.

HOW DOES IT DIFFER?

If it’s sheer volume of readers that you are after, metropolitan news coverage may give you what you are looking for. However, volume is not always the answer and more often than not regional news coverage can give you access to the eyes that really matter.

Regional and rural communities have a greater connection to their local news and are much more likely to read or logon their local paper, watch their local TV news, or listen to their local radio station.

So when pitching to regional and rural media, you’re effectively targeting specific stakeholders in specific regions, rather than casting the net wide and hoping for the best.

SO HOW DO I GET IN THE NEWS OUT THERE?

One common misconception of regional news is that “they’ll run anything”, and while there may be fewer people in the bush, that doesn’t mean getting your name in the paper is any easier. The key to gaining news coverage outside of the city is to understand the nuances of the rural and regional media landscape and adapt your approach to boot.

For example, unlike metropolitan news outlets, any significant rural news story of the day is published by 5.30am on the local radio. “Peak hour” for farmers is far different to the nine-to-five commuter into the city and the news agenda reflects that.

Here are some other tips to keep in mind when pitching to regional and rural media:

  • While smaller towns may only have a weekly or bi-weekly newspaper, that publication is studied in depth by both the community and journalists at competing outlets.

Because, no matter how seemingly insignificant the news source may seem to outsiders, the reality is those publications are the only ones on the planet that will print hyperlocal content. Only the local paper is going to write about local issues that affect members of the community, so when publication day rolls around, the locals are scrambling to their copy of the local rag.

  • Don’t forget about the little guy. A small paper might not sound exciting but it’s still going to be read by key stakeholders in the community.

Don’t let circulation numbers fool you. People read these publications from front to back. Take Cunnamulla’s Warrego Watchman as an example. It’s one of the few remaining truly independent newspapers in the country, and it’s beloved by its readers, despite having to compete with the APN (now News Corp)-owned Western Times.

These papers capture the attention of a devoted community who considers them a trusted source of reliable news.

  • We all know journalists’ resources are being stripped, and in regional newsrooms where resources are already scarce, any assistance we can give them will bolster the chances of getting a run. This includes access to talent, facts, figures, images and video.

Facts and figures are a godsend to any journalist, let alone a time poor, resource-scarce rural journalist who’s just launching their career.

But let’s think of it from another perspective. Rural and regional Australia is a big place, and if there is just one journalist within 600kms, just ducking to the next town to get a quick photo might not always be feasible.

The more you can provide print-worthy supporting material not only the more likely you are to land in the journalist’s good books, you’ll also land yourself in the journalist’s little black book.

  • Give the journalist a local spokesperson and a quality visual and you’re much more likely to get a good run.

Residents are more interested to hear what their local butcher has to say on issues concerning the meat industry, rather than what a federal government body’s stance is on the issue. National comments are good for perspective, and are necessary in many circumstances, but if there’s ever an opportunity to include a local spokesperson in your pitch, do your best to make that happen.

So when considering your next media pitch, think beyond the big city. It’s sure to pay dividends.