27 July, 2023
Importance of rural journalism study shines light on Guardian journalist’s experience in Gilgandra
As some of you may remember, back in 2021, The Gilgandra Weekly was graced back with the Guardian Australia’s first ever ‘rural reporter’, Natasha May.
May represented the newly created Guardian Rural
Network, which is funded by the Vincent Fairfax
Family Foundation. She worked on stories for the net-
work from the Gilgandra office, and contributed to the
paper one day a week.
After a year, Ms May’s time was up and she moved back to the big smoke to take up a role as live blog reporter - a highly intense role in the Guardian Sydney office. But Gilgandra will forever have a soft spot in Ms May’s heart. It’s where she learnt the value of hyper- local journalism, the distinction between rural and city folk, and even which boots are best worn at a rodeo.
UTS have published a report titled “Regional News Media”, in which Ms May has reflected on her time in Gilgandra. She stated that when she often would call people from the Gilgandra office and disclose where she was, she would feel the tone of the conversation shift.
“‘Oh I know Gil,’ they’ll say.
“Living rurally in Gilgandra truly enhanced my understanding of what that means and how often the perspectives of regional communities are ignored in mainstream media.”
Ms May spoke about the week she moved to Gilgandra. So called ‘freedom day’ after the intense state lockdowns was when she hopped in the car for the six hour drive west.
“While ‘Freedom Day’ rang true for greater Sydney when its lockdown restrictions were lifted for the first time in three months, the first story I wrote from Gilgandra was how, for many regional towns, the new statewide rules actually imposed greater restrictions (May, 2021),” she explained.
“While the new Freedom Day rules brought greater liberty for Sydney, for many regional communities like Gilgandra, which had already been out of lockdown for weeks, the new rules simply meant that overnight, busi- nesses lost the ability to serve the unvaccinated.”
In the report, Ms May explained how local newspa- pers like The Gilgandra Weekly, are often of a very practical nature for the community.
“The Gilgandra Weekly will publish details about the time and place of community events, local sporting
results, as well as relevant, practical advice, like how to de-bog tractors at harvest time. The community also sees itself directly reflected in the pages of the paper, in pictures taken at that week’s community event, perhaps the local agricultural show, as well as articles about spe- cial individual achievements, like a high school student making a state sporting team,” she said.
The Gilgandra Weekly sits at one end of the spec- trum, when it comes to news media. Ms May summed it up well by saying that “in the spectrum of media cover- age of regional issues, Guardian’s national coverage sits at the opposite end to the local coverage of a newspaper like The Gilgandra Weekly.”
“In the middle, there is the state-based agriculture news of The Land (New South Wales) and The Weekly Times (Vic), as well as the district-based coverage of the ABC with bureaus in regional centres like ABC Central West (Orange) and ABC Western Plains (Dubbo),” said Ms May.
While the good ol’ Gil Weekly stays humble, it has taken centre stage in the media on many occasions. Like when owner editor Lucie Peart announces new papers, or when she’s up in parliament calling for more funding for local papers. But many won’t forget when our very own postie saved the day.
“I have also written a more hyperlocal story about Gilgandra when Emily Middleton, the sole journalist at The Gilgandra Weekly, was a victim of identity fraud – and in the course of reporting, I discovered that region- al communities are generally more at risk of being scammed (May, 2022d),” said Ms May.
Heroism aside, Ms May concludes her contribution to the report with a reflection on what living in Gilgandra meant to her. It has made her more attuned to an interested in the connections between metro and regional populations, and she always has her ear out for little old Gilgandra.
“If you eat food or wear clothes, you are connected to the agricultural areas producing those products, whether you realise it or not.
“I have reported on the floods which have directly washed away crops (May, 2022f), and destroyed the railway lines which carry them (May, 2022g), as well as the subsequent food insecurity, bringing Australia to a point where the price of lettuce is making national head- lines.”