VFFF, Guardian Australia and UTS establish rural journalism program

The Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation (VFFF), The Guardian Australia and The University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) have launched a philanthropic program to address the decline of regional journalism.

The Rural Network has been created to give regional and rural communities a voice, providing funding for aspiring journalists to break into the industry, and to fill the gap in rural news coverage.

Developed in collaboration between Guardian Australia and UTS, The Rural Network is funded by a $1.37 million gift from the VFFF, which will assist Guardian Australia in building a network of “trusted regional contributors and employing five UTS graduate journalists over the life of the project”, to be based in rural communities, reporting on local stories.

Last month, Google and News Corp launched an initiative to provide digital skills training and new opportunities for young journalists, entitled The Digital News Academy. The program will provide training to 750 local and regional news professionals from a range of outlets across the country, including Australian Community Media and several others.

Earlier this year, The Walkley Foundation and Facebook distributed funding ranging from US$10,000-$60,000 to 17 regional news organisations to help offset the effects of COVID-19. Last year, the foundation also awarded 11 projects a total of $134,000 in grants to fund projects reporting on regional Australia, the Pacific and Asia.

Country Press Australia (CPA) also became the latest to sign an agreement with Google this month, which will see over 70 regional titles join the Google News Showcase.

Guardian Australia editor, Lenore Taylor

The program will run over three years, and comes after a major decline in regional news. Research by UTS’ Centre for Media Transition will examine models which might support sustainable regional news presence in mainstream media, after 194 rural and regional publications closed between 2008 and 2019, according to UTS. 3000 journalists have also been left without a job in the past five years, with the pandemic accelerating this decline.

Guardian Australia’s rural and regional editor, Gabrielle Chan, said: “This project will build a network of writers who know their regions. The Rural Network will nurture local talent, share local stories and build a bridge between metropolitan and country communities. It will scrutinise rural and regional policy seriously.”

Editor of Guardian Australia, Lenore Taylor, also said: “I’m delighted that Gabrielle is leading this project. There is no more authoritative voice in Australia on these issues. I’m also very pleased that the VFFF and UTS were willing to collaborate with us as we set up this new approach to reporting. I think it has great potential to allow us to cover stories we otherwise would not, with insight and perspective of lived experience and local knowledge.”

Natasha May has been appointed as the first graduate in the program, and will work from the Gilgandra Weekly’s newsroom, when restrictions permit. This will also include covering stories from this region for Guardian Australian’s rural network.

Natasha May, the first graduate of the program

UTS will publish its first report, the Annual Rural and Regional Media Report in September 2022, and has appointed Prue Clarke, journalist and founder of New Narratives to the project.

Professor Monica Attard, co-director of Centre for Media Transition at UTS said:“There’s been widespread acknowledgment that the decline in regional media news outlets is damaging to those communities. But it is also damaging to the national conversation. Social cohesion in part depends on all Australian communities having the opportunity to be heard.”


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