By Robert Washburn
The live, on-air launch of Small Town Radio 89.7 FM this week in West Northumberland is an important addition to the local media.
This non-profit, volunteer driven station will provide many welcomed programs; its contribution to the area’s news media is vital. As someone interested in hyperlocal news, community journalism and its impact on rural Canada, the arrival of a new sources of news is encouraging in a time when so many other news sources are being closed or under stress to survive.
Community journalism is critical to the proper functioning of local democracy. Far too often, new media are swept up in the coverage of major urban centres, national or even international news, denigrating local news as irrelevant or just a series of “happy” stories or promotional pieces for local organizations or businesses. Without good sources of news and information, citizens struggle to make decisions or take proactive action in their best interest.
The current economic realities place local news media under intense pressure to find sufficient advertising and audiences to be viable. Often, this results in fewer resources to do a proper job, along with less space or time devoted to covering news.
What is also emerging is the recognition of the crucial role news media play in the sustainability of rural Canada. News media, especially in the 21st century with all the new and emerging technology, can provide much-needed channels of communication needed for a community to discuss and debate their future (and, in some extreme cases, survival). In an era of controlled messaging by politicians, business and organizations, few trusted and credible sources are available. News media dedicated to fair, balanced, reliable, verified information can creates the opportunity for residents to be educated, engaged and empowered to act in their best interests and the community’s.
Small Town Radio adds its platforms to the already rich local media mix. Northumberland is lucky to have many contributors, from mainstream media in newspaper, television and radio stations, to local bloggers and social media groups. Certainly, compared to some rural areas in Canada, we should feel blessed.
However, quantity does not always reflect quality. Some sources provide accurate, verified news and information. Others are able to give insider information or word-from-the-street. Then, there are those try to give alternative information not found elsewhere.
For the discerning audience, these are all valuable resources. Small Town radio has a commitment to provide local voices, local news, and local information with a solid commitment to fairness and balance – keystones to quality journalism and journalism practice.
No matter what, it will raise the bar.
Recently, John Hill, news director of the station, interview me. He asked some pretty complex questions demanding considerable thought because he wanted to know more than just a few superficial answers. At times, it was a huge challenge to match the depth of information he was seeking in the time allotted. All the same, it was a heartening experience. No doubt, those who follow will face similar scrutiny.
Let’s hope the energy and success of this new addition to the local media family is sustained. We will all be better off for it.