Local news still matters

Save
The recent flooding in the Bay of Plenty is an example of how important local news is. Photo/File

By Dawn Picken

I'm taking a couple lessons from the recent flooding, storm and aftermath: 1) I need a ready box of important items to grab in case of sudden evacuation. 2) Local news still matters.

Item number one is a ''to-do'' I can tick off within an hour, gathering things such as passports, birth certificates, computer hard drives with photos and other tough-to-replace evidence of who we are and what we've done.

Item number two has likely been a matter for discussion ever since cave dwellers started etching scenes of city council meetings 750,000 years ago.

The conversation continued through the 20th century, as people in New Zealand and across the world received news of loved ones fighting world wars and local newspapers shared stories of local heroes, providing evidence of who they were and what they did.

The transformation of communications in the past decade has been likened to the Industrial Revolution.

While that period ushered in water and steam power, machine tools and production lines, it's also credited with a steady increase in living standards.

The digital revolution is credited with bringing us closer to friends and family around the globe. It's also blamed for dividing us along political and class lines.

Don't like your social media friends' politics? Unfriend her. Surround yourself with like-minded people who share your prejudices, proclivities, religious beliefs or lack thereof. Welcome to your silo.

This is where local news matters.

It can bring us out of our bubbles to learn new information and share moments with community members we otherwise might never meet.

Yes, the BBC, CNN, the Guardian, New York Times, and of course, New Zealand national news are always at our fingertips.

But journalists who cover the Bay of Plenty every day live here. We work, send our children and grandchildren to school, pay rates and build homes in this place. We're tethered financially, physically, emotionally.

I want to see my neighbours, in photos and in words; I want to know about floods in not just Edgecumbe but Papamoa, too.

I want to read about and see the Paradox Art Festival; to learn about road projects such those planned for State Highway 2; to learn about my neighbour, Graham Hoete, who happens to be an internationally-acclaimed artist.

I want my elected representatives held to account. Do you have three hours in the middle of your day to listen to councillors discuss water quality, building permits, transportation, rate rises?

Or perhaps you'd prefer listening to audio recordings online of Tauranga City Council meetings. I suggest the transport committee workshop from March 13. All 191 minutes of it. Then write a synopsis.

Then file another two stories before 5pm.

Throughout my career in the US and in the Bay of Plenty, I've heard the no-local-news-holdouts, those who proudly proclaim they wouldn't deign to watch local TV (in the States); or read the local paper (US and NZ). At a time when media are under siege from authoritarian regimes around the globe, news, including and especially local news, matters.

These days, it's not enough to tell stories.

We want to share stories in our own words, using our own photos and video, it's something many of us do through social media.

The Bay of Plenty Times, through its own social media channels attempts to engage a wider, more diverse audience. It's no easy task. Our obligation is to forge a lasting footprint with integrity and transparency.

I'm humbled each time sometime invites me into their lounge, whether it is the mayor or a mum on a benefit, someone has entrusted me to help tell their story.

We do more as local reporters than transcribe items for the record; we try to build connection so we can better understand who we are and what we do.

Writer and philosopher Alain de Botton argues news is by far the most influential means by which populations are educated.

"Once our formal education is finished," he wrote, "news is the teacher."

We need to ask whether we want to learn about each other not only from cat memes, cut-and-paste quotes, funny kid stories and through news outlets. Then, we need to inquire whether an outlet based in Auckland, London or New York is best placed to share our stories, or might we turn to news reported by and for people living here in the Bay?

Who can, with speed, diligence and precision, help us share these stories of who we are and what we've done?

Why does local news matter to you?

Share this article

More Bay of Plenty Times