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Inside the newsroom: WA’s South Western Times

The Bunbury-based South Western Times traces its history back to 1888. Today, its small team of journalists covers a large swathe of south-west Western Australia.

We caught up with editor Jakeb Waddell to find our more about how the South Western Times is delivering public interest news to more than 10,000 readers each week.

What patch does the newspaper cover?

The South Western Times covers the entire South West region of WA, spanning Harvey to Augusta and everywhere in between.

Editor Jakeb Waddell.

It covers the federal electorate of Forrest and state electorates of Bunbury, Vasse, Warren-Blackwood, Collie-Preston and Murray-Wellington.

The paper also covers the local governments of Bunbury, Busselton, Harvey, Capel, Dardanup, Collie, Augusta-Margaret River, Boyup Brook, Bridgetown, Eaton, Donnybrook, Manjimup and Nannup.

How often do you publish and how many readers do you reach?

The South Western Times is published every Thursday and has about 10,000 weekly readers across its print and digital editions, and a rapidly growing online and social presence, which includes 32,000 Facebook followers.

How many editorial team members work on the publication?

Thirteen, including myself. Five journalists are currently based in Bunbury working on the publication, with contributions from our wider South West team of 12 reporters.

What are the key industries and economies in your region?

A range of vastly different towns and cities in the South West, which includes the service centre of Bunbury, means there is the same diversity in its industries and economies. These include business, agriculture, export, transport, infrastructure, timber and manufacturing. Tourism is also key to the region, primarily in areas such as Margaret River and Busselton, but is also continuing to grow in places such as Bunbury, Manjimup and Collie.

What is the history of your masthead?

The award-winning paper was first printed in 1888 as the Southern Advertiser. It was later changed to the Southern Times, before becoming the South Western Times in 1917.

Throughout the years it has continued to be the leading source of news and information in Bunbury and the wider region.

It has always maintained a strong focus on quality news, sport and lifestyle content and is the first choice for event sponsorship.

The South Western Times is based in Bunbury, but covers a huge area of WA’s south-west. Image: Unsplash/Corey Serravite

What recent stories are you most proud of and what stories have made the most impact in your community?

The South Western Times has led the way in recent months with its exclusive stories, coverage of breaking events, extensive court and council reporting and critical information at a time when its communities needed it the most, as the pandemic continues to unfold.

In October, the newspaper revealed the “pro-freedom” businesses and organisations that had formed an anti-vaccination alliance knowns as The Authentic Hub, which planned to promote one another to allow the region to shop with companies “supporting human rights.” The group was widely condemned after the article was published and its social media page has since shut down.

At the recent local government elections, community member Tristan Payne was running for a seat on the Harvey Shire, an area where one-in-five people were born overseas and huge amounts of money have been pumped into migrant services including a brand new Multicultural Social Support Group. The South Western Times revealed a bizarre string of posts the candidate had made to his private social media account, including one that stated all people in Australia should speak English and others, including homophobic and threatening language, as well as government conspiracies. Mr Payne finished last in the Harvey Shire election in a landslide and was almost 1,000 votes behind the next closest contender.

A special South Western Times report in November revealed just how many major bank branches were closing in the South West, as well as the wider regional WA, with civic leaders labelling claims of customer shifts to online as nothing but a “cheap cop-out.” The report prompted a fierce response from Nationals leader Mia Davies, who told the nation’s major banks they were clearly turning their backs on regional customers.

As the school year rounded up, the paper published an exclusive front page report about the sordid, out-of-control scavenger hunts Year 12 students from at least two public schools were taking part in. The school leavers were participating in a series of outrageous challenges, which included filming themselves snorting drugs off each other’s buttocks, engaging in public sex, public urination and dangerous stunts. Schools took immediate action after the story was published, including banning instigators from attending graduation.

In the final edition of 2021, the South Western Times spoke exclusively to the former partner of a bikie who had walked free from court despite being one of the first to ever plead guilty to the State’s new persistent family violence charges and being declared a serial offender. The woman spoke bravely of her experiences, which prompted overwhelming support from the community.

As the coronavirus pandemic continued to dominate headlines, the South Western Times obtained figures that showed the low Indigenous vaccination rates in the region and how the Federal Government had failed to throw any money towards the issue. It came as the Government focused on a major advertising blitz for the Kimberley and Pilbara regions, which had the exact same ratio among its First Nations peoples. The rate has since increased and is in line with the South West’s overall figures, which have led the way in regional WA.

As Editor, what have been your editorial priorities that have led to the masthead’s recent success?

In the past year, my goal has been to ensure our newspaper remained relevant in our regional communities.

The key to this has been reporting without fear and focusing on stories in the public interest. This has meant disregarding a widely held view among regional communities themselves that crime and deeper issues should be swept under the rug to ensure the areas aren’t painted in a negative light.

Rather than bury our heads in the sand, the South Western Times has drawn attention to these issues as the only way to hold people to account, often using our loud and proud front pages to do so.

There has been an increased focus on our courts and crime in the region, a deep look at decisions made by local councils and constant scrutiny of our political leaders and how their decisions impact the area.

This has been well balanced with coverage of the incredible achievements of people in our area, such as one of the biggest AFL draft crops in more than a decade, impressive academic results from our Year 12 students and a series of the Young Aboriginal leaders making a difference in the South. This balance creates a product that presents an accurate reflection of the community.

What resources do you need to do journalism better?

Practical, on-the-ground training is essential for young people looking towards a career in journalism.

New reporters, who normally start in the regions, are expected to hit the ground running when they begin and it is imperative they already have this basic knowledge and skillset.

Proper communication between regional and metro newsrooms and the ability for young journalists to access experienced editorial team members is important. This is evident in the practical way regional offices currently work with The West Australian’s newsroom to create better products all-round.

Read more from the South Western Times.

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This is the first article in a new series profiling newsrooms across Australia. If you are interest in JNI profiling your newsroom, pleased contact media@jninstitute.org.