Former ABC News Director Gaven Morris is the latest appointment to Region Media’s Advisory Board, following his departure from the national broadcaster late last year.
The ABC’s Director of News, Analysis and Investigations since 2015, Morris was also instrumental in founding the News 24 channel and has worked for CNN, Al Jazeera English, Channel Ten and the Canberra Times, where his career as a journalist began.
He is now the CEO of Bastion Transform, a digital transformation and content strategy consultancy. The Region advisory board is chaired by former Department of Health secretary Glenys Beauchamp.
With roots deep in the Capital Region, Morris says that Region Media is a neat fit for both his passions: news and innovation.
“My first fulltime job in journalism was here in 1992,” he says.
These were the days of three local commercial news programs – Prime News, WIN and Ten – all with senior figures like Peter Leonard on the desk. 2CA, 2CC and the new FM radio stations ran newsrooms equivalent to the ABC’s and Morris recalls press packs at the Legislative Assembly and the courts where he was regularly part of a scrum with reporters and camera operators.
In many ways it’s the profound changes in media that drew him back to Canberra after two decades of savage cuts to the regional media landscape. In particular, Morris says, he’s compelled by Region Media’s mission to build a strong, local, independent, commercially viable journalism model.
“In the past decade, up to 5000 journalism jobs have been lost in Australia,” he says.
“In its digital platforms report, the ACCC found that in the decade up to 2018, more than 100 newspapers across regional Australia closed, 15 percent of the total across Australia. It left 16 local government areas without a single local newspaper.
“Across all mediums, networked content often fills the void or stories specifically relevant for Sydney and Melbourne people take prominence. If this is how it feels in a city the size of Canberra, imagine what citizens in smaller regional centres get served.”
Morris characterises Region Media as one of the most promising “green shoots” in the new media landscape, noting that the company’s significant point of difference is its civic-minded, community driven and commercially viable model.
“The Riotact news site is locally produced, independent of any national corporate interest and focussed on the agendas and needs of Canberrans. And it’s hiring journalists,” he says.
“Region’s success is founded on an understanding of contemporary audience needs and modern market realities. It’s a collaboration between two energetic Canberra technology entrepreneurs who have a love for their city and its surrounding regions and the knowledge to create a digital-native David that can survive and thrive among the multinational goliaths.”
Morris makes the point that if local news is to make a comeback, editorial strength must be combined with commercial viability, predicated on innovation and flexibility.
Where traditional models have failed and news has consequently dried up, Region’s model offers a solution to news deserts where citizens feel they’ve lost their voice and community connections.
“This is what Region has built.”
Morris argues that while philanthropy, government grants, digital payment platforms and investment incentives are all worthwhile, they’re not the answer for a strong independent media sector and its public interest function.
“It’s why as a proud Canberran who got my start in local journalism, I’m working with the team as it builds a news model that serves its community, stands independently and succeeds commercially,” he says.
“I hope regional newspapers survive and I know many small independent news sites are emerging at the hyper-local level – both should be supported by readers, advertisers and funding. I also see new business models emerging that can succeed in the digital economy and because of it.”
Local news markets may never return to the way things were but deserts can be brought back to life and the news ecosystem depends on people like those at Region Media nurturing it, Morris believes.