It seems fitting to bookend my two years with the team at Region Media by starting with the story that set the wheels in motion.
Nic Manikis was a humble but passionate businessman who owned Nic’s Convenience Store in Queanbeyan. Through Nic’s jumbled English, you quickly understood his heart was deeply entrenched in the community.
The outpouring of grief from the community when Nic had a heart attack in the beloved shop he first opened in 1975, just months before he and his wife were due to retire, was astounding.
But my conversation with Nic didn’t end with his untimely death in 2019.
“Dad was a kind and generous man and wore his big heart on his sleeve,” Nic’s daughter Kerry Weiss told me.
Unfortunately, Queanbeyan is one of far too many communities whose local news coverage has also died at the hands of corporations that can no longer afford to have a journalist cover the stories that keep these communities alive.
As a journalist between jobs, I could not sit back and let this story go untold, or leave it to someone who perhaps hadn’t met Nic Manikis.
The story, published by RiotACT, led to a full-time job and more than 1700 stories during the past two years across the RiotACT and About Regional platforms.
It’s no surprise the stories that resonate most with readers are the ones with a deep connection to their community (but we also love reading and dreaming about multi-million-dollar lottery wins and the promise of snow).
As the Black Summer of bushfires unfolded, only to be followed by a pandemic, people’s connection to community became more important than ever.
While I sometimes lamented a third update to a bushfire story mere hours after filing my first, or writing another bloody story with the word COVID-19 in it, those stories were the fuel helping to keep communities informed.
Dig a little deeper and you find communities rising from the ashes, healing from the scars, only to face a flood of rain and more damn things to deal with.
Angela and Jake Annetts, who lost their home at Dog Leg Farm at Bombay, west of Braidwood, captured the weariness of that season so well as they were dealing with the Tallagandra Fire (remember that one?) which nearly wiped out Braidwood well before the Orroral Valley Fire flickered its flames south of Canberra.
“Two fire crews rolled into town, probably to refuel and head back out to more horrors. It’s been a habit of late to show appreciation to these fantastic human beings, with a thumbs up or a cheery woot, but these guys were also stunned, exhausted, shocked and overworked and didn’t notice my feeble attempt at raising their spirits,” Jake and Ange said.
As we rebuild, issues are tearing some communities in two.
At Bungendore, a much-needed high school proposal faces legal action from a section of the community digging its heels in over the loss of heritage assets in the town, including parts of its park and common area.
Heated accusations of lies and exaggerations have flown back and forth. Perhaps the upcoming local government, state and federal elections will see a resolution, but expect lots more to and fro before the dust settles.
As journalists, we do our best to hold politicians, councillors, businesses and communities to account. But, we also tell the stories that keep them together.
We, too, have been stunned, exhausted, shocked and overworked, and as I press on to the next phase of my career, I can only hope the press can keep telling the amazing stories of people in their communities.
Nic’s Convenience Store has since been sold and the new owner has yet to set up shop, but the legacy of people like Nic Manikis will live on.
As Region Media continues to grow substantially in the face of cutbacks to so-called traditional forms of media, the conversation will also continue, and as I file my last story (for now), it is with a heartfelt thank you to all the people with whom I’ve had a heartfelt conversation.