It’s been an eventful year, to say the least. Many of us are feeling as though our world is unravelling; climate extremes seem set to exacerbate, extremism is on the rise, respectful discourse has become nigh impossible, and anger seems to be the fall-back emotion for too many of us now.
Editing a hyper-local newspaper like the Westsider allows you to see these broader trends play out on a micro level, which is why it’s important to take the time to step back from your work and examine what role you play in community cohesion. Are you fostering unity and understanding, or are you wedging issues for spikes in readership? It’s a constant interrogation.
A recent letter from a reader has reminded me of the impact stories can have on an individual, both positive and negative. Helen Sinnema is a resident of Techno Park Drive and as you can read in Letters to the editor she was not impressed with our story last month on Hobsons Bay Council’s decision to evict residents there.
The article was written by student journalists from RMIT and one of the things we should learn early as journalists is to check our own internal biases, and try to present a balanced view on every story we tackle. Many things can influence ‘balance’; choice of words is important, as is choice of story structure. Who gets the final say on an issue for instance. But also important is choice of images. Mrs Sinnema took great exception to the images chosen for the article, and felt they didn’t truly represent the people that live at Techno Park Drive, focussing on the industrial surrounds rather than the community..
Perhaps she has a point. That’s why I always appreciate feedback from readers. It keeps you in check, and forces you to reflect on your choices. And of course it’s always interesting to see how people react when they see their own worlds reflected back through the prism of an outsider’s point of view.
Transparency is critical for building trust in journalism which is why I’m more than happy to print Mrs Sinnema’s letter. I thank her for taking the time to express her disappointment and hope that she continues to read and respond to our stories.
And I hope that more of you feel encouraged to engage with The Westsider, whether it be to write articles, alert us to local issues, or to tell us when we’re not doing good enough. Next year I hope to run some basic courses in citizen journalism and I would love as many of you to participate as possible. Please get in contact if you’d like to learn more, and in the meantime try to have a safe, calm, and contented festive season.