Being shown how to locate, to place, any account is what does most toward making us believe it, not merely allowing us to - may the account be the facts or a lie.
So said Eudora Welty, a writer from southern America, reflecting on her career which spanned the 20th century. Welty won a Pulitzer Prize in 1973 for her novel The Optimist's Daughter. The novel is set in Welty's hometown, Jackson, in Mississippi. It is to there the novel's main character, Laurel Hand, retreats after her father's death to reflect on her past and recreate her life.
Welty wrote articles about the art of writing, in particular about the importance of setting stories, fiction and non-fiction, in actual places. There, said Welty, readers can see characters and events "in all their particularity" and so judge fact and truth for themselves.
Not surprisingly, Eudora Welty started her career as a journalist, at the local newspaper across the border in Memphis, the Commercial Appeal. She then worked as a photo-journalist recording daily life across the south as America battled the Great Depression. For Welty, every story needed to be soaked in the details of where it took place.
It is an insight that remains important to this day. Yet the opportunity to read stories - and it is news stories that I'm highlighting here - that are steeped in local detail is under threat.
The Save Our Voices campaign organised by regional media companies around Australia, with the face of Ray Martin, is a direct response to this threat.
The Hunter is a litmus of how well regional media is doing. When we moved to the region 35 years ago, I was struck by the health of local media, The Newcastle Herald, a quality regional daily, the free community weeklies, community and commercial AM and FM radio stations with their own news desks, and a genuine TV station.
Most of these outlets survive, but in some cases it's only just. The problem is twofold, the internet and neglect by governments of their role in making laws and regulations to allow regional media to be commercially viable.
We need to fight back. Ponder how ignorant we would be of where we live without local media.
We would be ignorant of the complexities of the Kathleen Folbigg murder case and of the nature and extent of child sexual abuse by the clergy. The stories of environmental damage, of coal ash, particulate matter, PFAS contamination, voids not remediated, would not be told. We would lack the detail that make us love our sports heroes, like Belinda Clark, Andrew Johns, Jack Newton, Doug Walters, Kurt Fearnley and Alison Broadbent. Our understanding of earthquakes, bushfires, and beach erosion would be shallow, based on other places. And unheard would be the successes of Newcastle University, John Hunter Hospital, the Westpac rescue helicopter.
IN OTHER NEWS:
Sure, we will always have metropolitan media, but we know the tone we would have to live with, the bubbled politics of Macquarie St and Canberra, the lives of the famous, insatiable infrastructure demands, property scandals, drive-by shootings. A regional story would be thrown in every now again, but only for its horror or quirk.
If there are only metropolitan media four things will disappear. First, the daily log of community events - our stories - will cease to be written.
Second, the attachment we feel for what is happening, and who it is happening to, will disappear. Anger, sorrow, celebration, will come only from the desk of a journalist based elsewhere. As readers, viewers, listeners, we will not readily bring our emotions to a story.
Third, our news will come to us as the news of another place, Sydney news, national news, news from overseas. Our lives will look diminished, with the big things, the things that others say matter, determined elsewhere.
Fourth, we will struggle for ways to engage politically with our world. The business of local councils will go unreported, the letters pages gone, opinion columns no more, MPs unaccountable.
When we live fulsomely, it's the particulars of life that interest us, amuse us and engage us.
We need local media to capture the particulars of where we live. Right now our media needs our help. Find out what you can do at www.saveourvoices.com.au