Alana Schetzer is a senior journalist with Melbourne Times Weekly, one of Australia’s most respected local newspapers. She also writes for The Age and has been published on popular websites including MamaMia and National Times. In 2012, along with a series of interviews with women councillors for 7 local papers, she researched and wrote an in depth piece about women’s participation in local government.
“Local government plays an essential role not only in our democracy but of also in service delivery. Likewise, the media is an essential player in our political system as the fourth estate, a watcher of-sorts on how elected representatives perform and how ratepayer’s money is spent. Therefore, the relationship between journalist and councillor can be essential is ensuring readers (who are also voters) are fully informed on what is going across all aspects of their community.
While it may seem like the journalist-councillor relationship can be naturally combatitive, it has rarely been the case in mine and my colleague’s experience. A good working relationship between a journalist and councillor can be respectful, productive and beneficial to all. So don’t make assumptions that every journalist you meet is planning on putting words in your mouth or going to paint you as a villain; on the whole we’re actually a highly ethical group of individuals who have a genuine interest in reporting important stories to our communities.
Of course, the media and local government sometimes have different agendas – the media to expose what’s happening and the council may want to spin a positive angle on something less than flattering.
At the same time, journalists aren’t always chasing negative stories, they’ll also promote community events and achievements as part of a balanced newspaper. Ultimately, what we both share is our desire to serve our communities; they who hold the power as readers and voters.