‘This is a tech company as much as a media company’: Genevieve Jacobs on future-proofed sustainable news

Mumbrella's Calum Jaspan chats with Region Media's group editor, Genevieve Jacobs about building sustainable regional media, and why the news industry needs to be able to stand on its own two feet.

With almost 700,000 unique monthly visitors servicing a region of around one million people, Region Media, published of RiotAct and About Regional has established itself as a trusted and stable regional media outlet.

Group editor, Genevieve Jacobs says that the key to transforming RiotAct from the “well-known but relatively lightweight, feisty and sort of angry” website that offered up Canberra news and gossip, but never really found its way commercially, was by taking the view that “people won’t trust us with their money in the back end, if they don’t trust the content at the front end”.

Founded in 2016 by tech and business operators Tim White and Michael McGoogan, Region Media purchased RiotAct with the pair seeing the potential in the 124,000 monthly users as “something they could really work with”, alongside “strong name recognition, but not a great reputation to be honest”.

“We often talk about Region as a tech problem, expressed through media terms,” says Jacobs, on the proposition the company has built.

Jacobs, a media veteran and past presenter on ABC Canberra joined Region in 2018, says that her contribution was to bring and apply the vision that the news had to offer something robust, valuable and genuinely in the public interest, that combined with the business smarts that the group already had, in order to create a sustainable media company.

“This is a tech company as much as it’s a media company, it’s about understanding how to pull together the market leaders make it work.”

Jacobs’ take on some of the recent failings in media stems from the inability of those with a history in news that have not adapted to the new media economy.

“There’s loads of good journalists out there who don’t know how to run a business”, she says, explaining that a lot of the efforts at replacing traditional media models have been predicated around journalists having great ideas, with great intentions, high skills and connections, but having no know-how in monetising the model and avoiding some of the pitfalls of the past.

Region Media inaugural advisory board in 2020

Region Media now employs 30 staff, with about a 50-50 split between editorial and non-editorial staff, placing a high priority on editorial integrity. Jacobs says she is very conscious of the news outlets she and her colleagues grew up working in, where the editorial staff has a lack of understanding of what is funding the business, and vice versa, the business side doesn’t understand the ethical imperatives on the editorial side of work.

“What I’m trying to do is perform the balancing act of keeping those divisions very clean and making sure that the people we work with on the business side understand that they can’t influence the news.”

What the business has found in turn with raised and clear editorial standards, is that some of the larger clients really like the division between editorial and business.

“A lot of clients in the community are saying “I don’t want a free ride” and are saying if we do something terrible, we want to be called out, which is really interesting because obviously there’s a strong public appetite for ethical and well-rounded journalism.”

Now, Region is setting up shop in the Riverina, with a frontage on the main street in Wagga Wagga, to service the area which houses over 200,000 Australians.

The question of funding journalism and particularly regional journalism in Australia is hot under the microscope currently, with independent publishers across the country forming a collective to push back against Meta this week.

Yet Jacobs says the industry cannot become reliant on government and social media hand-outs.

This week’s #WaitingOnZuck campaign

“I think its critically important that the government stakeholders recognise the need for a vigorous and independent media, but I also think that propping everyone and everything else up via governmental and social media grants is not a sustainable answer in the end.”

While Region has received some digital media equipment from Meta, Jacobs says that relying on support like this does not create viable business models going into the future.

“If you look to a future where most are propped up by grants and the kinds of ties that can come with that, then there are some really clear and quite spectacular ethical pitfalls ahead potentially.

In order to create a reliable and robust industry, for Jacobs, this needs to come from pushing business models that reward quality and trusted reporting, as that is the ultimate mission of the industry.

“We can’t make journalism some kind of protected industry that they can’t stand on its own two feet. It’s too important for that as a cornerstone of democracy. I think there are good things to come from that [social media and government grants], and I’m not knocking them back for a second, but they just need to be carefully thought out in the context of, are we creating a viable future for a really important industry for our community.”



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