Wellington, March 28, 2020
The government’s blanket ban on community newspapers during the lockdown is short-sighted.
The Government has shut down more than 100 community newspapers, while allowing the large daily newspapers to continue publishing.
There needs to be an urgent rethink in view of the vital position community newspapers play in reliable information flow.
Best practice in crisis communication is to use information flows that people already have and already depend on, not to try to change their news habits in the middle of a crisis.
Thousands of people in rural small towns depend on their free weekly newspapers to know what is going on. Some should be allowed to serve their communities.
Informing rural people
This would allow residents to find out about special services during this time, things of interest only to that community and therefore not covered by large news outlets.
In the smaller areas, people often don’t have internet either.
Nelson Grey Power recently pointed out half their members have no internet, and census figures indicate more than 40% of rural small towns have no internet.
I often see small town libraries with lots of residents using their internet connection and computers because they do not have any at home.
Now the libraries are closed and people don’t have that platform.
They rely even more on their accurate weekly newspaper, often delivered by the postal service which is still operating during the lockdown.
A lack of understanding
If the ban is meant to prevent newspaper staff from moving around in the community, it shows a lack of understanding of modern journalism and publication.
Journalism graduates over the past decade have all the skills to produce a newspaper from their back bedroom – collecting news, writing, even podcasting and page design.
Software is available cheaply and universally for community newspaper staff to do the whole thing from the safety of their lockdown property.
In this time of crisis, our communities need to be as strong as they can be and people need good information. This is not a time to take away an essential way of supporting both these objectives.
Dr Catherine Strong is Senior Lecturer, Journalism & Public Relations at the Wellington Campus of Massey University.