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New Indigenous reporting team leads ABC diversity push

ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie wants the national broadcaster to “sound like Australia” and says she is determined to achieve this through “dexterity, diversity and collaboration”.

Words by Kate Aubrey
 

As part of the plan, Ms Guthrie said she was establishing a new Indigenous reporting team, to be led by Walkley Award-winning journalist Stan Grant.

“This team will enhance the breadth and depth of our Indigenous coverage — across policy, the challenges to those communities, and the contributions they make,” she said.

Ms Guthrie added that the new unit would be “supported by an absolute commitment by the ABC to its Indigenous coverage”.

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“This will include providing cultural awareness training for our staff and professional development plans for our Indigenous staff across our newsrooms and platforms,” she added. “We want an ongoing conversation with our staff and our audiences about our coverage of Indigenous Australia, what we do well and what we can do better.”

Outlining her vision for the national broadcaster in a keynote address to the New News Conference in Melbourne, Ms Guthrie said there was “no mass media now”.

“Different demographics congregate around different platforms. Media companies that try to corral all their audiences in one place or who rely on ‘loyalty’ to keep them there do so at their peril,” she said.

Instead, in a “fragmented, rapidly evolving media landscape”, media companies needed to be fleet-footed.

“You can ensure that your content – whether it is a probing news investigation, a brilliant local drama or a provoking science documentary, is relevant across socio-economic and age demographics.”

But that was provided you retained key skills — dexterity, diversity and collaboration.

Ms Guthrie, who is the ABC’s first female chief in 84 years, took on the role at a particularly volatile time, in May 2016, following a funding cut of almost $20 million and after several key journalists and programs had been cut.

The daughter of Chinese-Australian parents, Guthrie said she fervently believed that the national broadcaster could only truly reflect cultural diversity if it lived it. 

“I have driven this issue hard in my first six months at the ABC,” she said, “because we will struggle to reach a broader audience if we fail on this very important goal.”

Cultural diversity was changing in Australia and the ABC needed to change with it, she added.

“Different demographics congregate around different platforms. Media companies that try to corral all their audiences in one place or who rely on ‘loyalty’ to keep them there do so at their peril.” 

“We want the faces you see and the voices you hear reporting and discussing news of the day to be as diverse as our audience.”

She told the audience that one of the best ways to deliver a broad range of content was to retain a diverse staff across a range of locations that included operations in every Australian capital city, 48 suburban and regional newsrooms and 11 international bureaux.

But she also expected the national broadcaster to continue expanding its content on-demand in line with international trends that show people are accessing news and programming through their mobile phones and are moving away from traditional television.

Ms Guthrie said young people no longer searched media outlets for news. Instead, an outlet’s content came to them through their social media feeds.

“Since 2014, the ABC has seen a 49 per cent increase in ABC news and current affairs monthly plays on iview and a 51 per cent increase in ABC News monthly plays on our YouTube channel,” she said. “So it should come as no surprise that this desire to connect and share extends to the consumption of news.”

The ABC prided itself in “providing the best news and current affairs” with high quality, in-depth coverage that was fiercely independent, she continued. “I am committed to maintaining our investment in quality news and current affairs. It is a real strength of the ABC,” she said, adding that the ABC remained one of Australia’s most trusted institutions, “alongside the High Court and the Reserve Bank”.

“We want the faces you see and the voices you hear reporting and discussing news of the day to be as diverse as our audience.”

Ms Guthrie rejected arguments that ABC News should stick to its flagship programs and limit its digital investment.

“There is increasing awareness that our digital platforms are more than just an adjunct – they are an increasingly powerful way of extending the life of our stories and making them more available to wider audiences,” she said.

Ms Guthrie also announced a new partnership with Chatfuel, which would be available on the Facebook Messenger app. “From Monday, ABC News has a new way for Australians to stay across the news, with the launch of a dedicated news service on Facebook Messenger,” she said. This would send users the latest news summary each morning, along with prompts of upcoming news events.

For Ms Guthrie, the question of “change” was not an option. She said that although the ABC had been successful to date, surviving numerous budget cuts, it had to reach further, diversify and better embrace the digital world.

“Our goal is to make ABC News an essential part of people’s daily lives by engaging with whatever medium they are on.”

►  ABC News: Dexterity, diversity and collaboration: read Michelle Guthrie’s full speech here.

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