How governments solve problems
"The ACMA (Australian Communications and Media Authority) has awarded up to $3.6 million in grants to regional and small publishers under the first round of the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund." (ACMA website news recently)
I never fail to be amused at how our governments think, when it involves coming up with solutions to solve problems. Federal, state and local governments all seem to think and act the same, and the result? The real problems never really get solved, more often than not it's a case of adding another band aid, or so it seems.
We see it so often, don't we? Over recent months we've all heard about how the governments aid package for farmers has caused all sorts of issues and who will ever forget the home insulation, school improvement, and NBN debacles. At a state level, closing down the greyhound industry was a great idea wasn't it, and who thinks the decisions involving our State's power set up is working?
For me personally, as a small business owner, I've watched as governments come up with schemes to help small business owners only to discover on closer inspection that the programs offer virtually nothing, other than the opportunity to dig yourself into a deeper hole.
This brings me to one of the Federal Government's latest great initiatives. It's called the Regional and Small Publishers Innovation Fund and the they're offering millions of dollars in grants to small and independent publishers like me to quote "encourage publishers to develop and trial sustainable models for public interest journalism".
Everyone knows that traditional newspaper publishers are going through a period of major change and all are trying desperately to stop the huge declines in revenue and paid readership that are happening.
Although Orange City Life is not the typical 'newspaper' model and has not been affected by the huge downturn, we have still been affected and like everyone else, we too are always looking for ways to build our revenue and our audience. My belief is that the best way to do that is to produce a product that people will embrace and to want to have, even if they have to pay for it.
Put another way, if publishers produce a quality newspaper either as a hardcopy or an online version, and it's worth reading, my contention is, people will buy and read it. It's all about the product.
This is where I feel this Innovation Fund has completely missed the mark again.
I appreciate that technology, training and innovation all play a part, but at the end of the day it's quality journalism, written by capable and committed journalists, that will win advertisers and readers back. I have no question about that at all.
That said, here's part of the criteria for which any grant funding can be used for -
"Grants will not be available for projects that represent ‘business as usual’ activities, with little or no change in the way the applicant produces journalistic content, or the way that it reaches its audience."
Unbelievably to me, "business as usual" activities includes not being allowed to use the grant to employ any additional staff, journalists included!
Do you hear what I'm saying?
Unless I'm missing something, the guts of any "news" service is the actual journalism. If that's good, everything will flow from there. To improve the quality and volume of news reporting and stories that is being offered currently, surely that should include employing more journalists to produce it. In fact, to build or grow any business on any front generally requires additional staff to do it. The projects that have secured the latest grant funding would all appear to require additional staff to deliver them, and in my view, all have little prospects of making any real inroads into the main problem that needs to be addressed - building up readership. Like I said, technology and innovation can play a part, but it's the quality of the content that will ultimately bring readers and advertisers back. The best fridge in the world won't feed anyone who's hungry if there's no food in it.
Well, not according to the Federal Government.
Here's a few of the projects that they've just handed out $3.6 million to fund -
Purchase a new content management system package and develop new websites for their publications
Engage a professional media consultant to undertake a performance review of content and delivery strategies
Create new digital efficiencies through the installation of new technology solutions
Create and produce daily video podcasts interviews with local people of interest in the local community
Launch a digital innovation project aimed to improve the publisher's digital channels
Yeah! That's all going to help bring the readers and advertisers back isn't it?
Sadly, it's the way Government's still think. Pity we can't buy wisdom in a bottle, if we could, I'd love to send a convoy of trucks full of it to Canberra.