Newsroom cuts won't end with radio demise

|| April 10, 2015

Another brick has been removed from Brisbane's legacy media wall with today's demise of 4BC's breakfast, morning and evening shows. They are set to be replaced by networked content from Sydney.

It's a sad day for Brisbane media. I'm particularly sad for the likes of presenters Patrick Condren, Ian Skippen and Loretta Ryan and their excellent producers. I was fortunate to be on Patrick's show only two days ago, enjoying the fun of live radio based on local issues and local contributors.

As a chief of staff at The Courier-Mail, I spent two years with a radio on either side of my desk, trying to keep up with then ABC mornings presenter Madonna King and then 4BC mornings guru Greg Cary. Both were outstanding broadcasters who were compulsory listening for Brisbane news junkies. They helped to make Brisbane a vibrant news base.

We are a much better society for the presence of smart, inquisitive and ethical journalists. I was privileged to watch up close as Mark Solomons and Kelmeny Fraser unleashed outstanding investigative reports that brought down state MP Scott Driscoll. If not for the work of Solomons and Fraser, Driscoll would not be facing a trial on 16 serious charges. During their investigative work, I encouraged Solomons and Fraser to follow only the Driscoll story and not to write anything else. I estimate they would have spent more than one year combined on the story, sometimes not publishing for a few weeks as they continued their research. But the days of allowing two journalists to spend months researching stories are coming to an end for many newsrooms. For some, that luxury has been gone for years.

Fortunately, the ABC now has a national reporting unit that is having an impact across the country. Hopefully this unit will be funded for years to come.

While today's demise of three 4BC shows is unfortunate, it won't be the last changes for local media. News organisations need revenue to pay for their employees. That revenue is being blown away by a media world that continues to change before our eyes. 

Radio is suffering because its cumulative audience is falling away. The listeners who would tune in for the news bulletin on the hour, and then stick around for a show, now get their news from their smartphones. Others are making excellent use of podcasts, listening at their leisure. 

Newspapers are being crippled by the shift of readers to digital platforms. If a reader of the print version is worth $1 to a publisher, analysts say, then a reader of the website is worth 10 cents. And the reader of a mobile site only a few cents. Most online traffic to newspapers now comes via mobile devices. Some print publishers have only one reliable way to increase revenue - by lifting cover prices while the size of their product shrinks. 

Commercial TV news continues to generate strong revenue for its networks. And Brisbane has excellent competition in its commercial TV news ranks. But, like radio, TV needs to retain that audience that used to switch on at 6pm to learn the news of the day. The growing use of smartphones doesn't help television news.

We can at least feel better knowing that intelligent audiences work out a lot for themselves. Queensland doesn't have the same resources covering state parliament as it did two or three decades ago. But voters still worked out in less than three years that Campbell Newman - despite his thumping election victory - was not the man they wanted to lead the state. They delivered to Newman the same brutal assessment that fell on the Bligh Labor Government in 2012. 

The media world is changing. We're consuming more news and information than ever and in ways more fun than we could have imagined. But we will have to get used to this news and information not coming from well resourced, traditional newsrooms. In the years to come, more journalists from traditional newsrooms will be made redundant.

At the same time, the private and public sector are employing more content creators than ever before. And some are doing a much better job than newsrooms in connecting with audiences. The work of some sporting communications units is outstanding. They know their audiences, they crunch data to ensure they're engaging them and they try new things. 

More stories are being told than ever before. It's not the end of storytelling. It's a changing environment moulded by the power of the consumer.

- Michael Crutcher