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Inside the newsroom: community broadcasting’s National Radio News

National Radio News (NRN) is a mainstay of the community broadcasting sector, producing more than 80 news bulletins each week for community radio stations around Australia.

Its newsroom is based at Bathurst’s Charles Sturt University and gives students the chance to work alongside and learn from professional journalists.

We caught up with NRN’s News Director Frank Bonaccorso to find out more about the newsroom, the enduring importance of community radio and how NRN is training the next generation of journalists.

Frank, for those who aren’t familiar with National Radio News, can you explain what the service does?

National Radio News is a community-based radio news service that seeks to provide a counterpoint to the established commercial and public sector news services across the country. Built on the community broadcasting sector’s principles of democracy, independence and access, NRN has no commercial ties or political agenda, and covers stories often overlooked by commercial services.

News Director Frank Bonaccorso oversees NRN’s editorial outputs and staff. Image: Supplied

By default and intent NRN has an inherent focus on regional Australia. We see it as our fundamental responsibility to provide regional and rural-based stories, and perspectives with a defined regional focus. NRN has a mission to fill the breach left by years of reduced service and commitment within the commercial sector.

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Our focus on regional and rural Australia, and the veritable plethora of unique stories those regions produce, are at the heart and essence of what we do at NRN. It’s what sets us apart from conventional broadcast media and, to a large degree, the public sector.

Our offices are based in Bathurst, New South Wales and we have a growing profile in Canberra following the establishment of our parliamentary bureau in 2019.

How many bulletins do you produce each day?

NRN bulletins can be heard seven days a week from 6:00am. They normally conclude at 7:00pm weekdays and 12:00pm weekends and public holidays.

We produce 84 bulletins per week: 14 on any given weekday and seven on Saturdays and Sundays.

How many communities around Australia hear your bulletins each day?

NRN bulletins are heard around Australia on more than 95 community radio stations, from Kununurra, across the Top End and down to Tasmania. We service the length and breadth of the country.

Chief of Staff Laura Devoy reading one of the 84 bulletins NRN produces each week. Image: Supplied

How many journalists work in the newsroom?

We currently employ four senior journalists, including a News Director and Chief of Staff.

The News Director is responsible for editorial supervision of both content and staff. They also have overall supervision of the interns and cadets who give their time to fulfil a number of key newsroom responsibilities and to supplement their academic efforts in their Communications degrees at Charles Sturt University, where NRN is based.

There are two broadcast divisions within National Radio News:

  • The National Desk delivers composite bulletins across the country on an hourly basis as outlined above.
  • The State Desk delivers bespoke bulletins tailored to each state and territory across Australia, once per day.

The Chief-of-Staff is responsible for setting agendas on the newsroom floor, day-to-day supervision of both interns, cadets and senior staff.

What role do CSU students play in the newsroom?

CSU students are the heart and soul of National Radio News. They willingly give their time not only to throw themselves into the practical mechanics of broadcast news but to springboard their quest for meaningful roles within the Fourth Estate. NRN boasts countless examples of student journalists who’ve moved from the community sector to carve out careers within the commercial and public broadcast sector. Most readily concede that NRN was the catalyst that propelled their own careers. NRN graduates are highly sought after in newsrooms across the country.

Peter Freestone is one of four senior journalists who works for NRN. Image: Supplied

At any one time, we may have up to five Charles Sturt University students as interns at NRN. Our interns are also responsible for the preparation of holders — evergreen stories produced in-house that supplement the daily news agenda.

Students liaise with the News Director or Chief of Staff on story ideas pitched to the community sector broadcast diaspora. They pitch stories that are not given prominence or even touched on by the commercial sector and that reflect the social, economic and cultural fabric of regional Australia.

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Once NRN interns have served a period on the various news and editorial desks, they move on to the production desks to oversee the preparation and delivery of national and state bulletins.

A smaller number then go on to a paid cadetship. Inductees are expected to fulfil a range of tasks from interviewing to story-holder production, to bulletin production at both a state and national level. The production desk is where our cadets cut their teeth. They are primarily responsible for the conception, production and delivery of each news bulletin, be it state or national. Our service is, perhaps, the only one where a single producer is responsible for each and every facet of the delivery of news bulletins to the public.

Why are community broadcasters so important to Australians?

Community radio plays an important role in providing a diverse range of viewpoints that enrich the social and cultural fabric of Australian society.

Community broadcasters tell stories that are often overlooked by other services and give a voice to under-represented groups.

What stories or broadcasting initiatives are you most proud of?

We are inherently proud of the close bonds we have forged with the agricultural sector, with multicultural communities across the country and, most importantly, the focus we place on Indigenous Australia. The rights and roles of women in society, in the workplace and politics are a cornerstone of our newsgathering philosophy, as are those of multicultural and ethnic groups.

What resources does the newsroom need to do its journalism better?

Newsroom resources — where do you start!

Updating our broadcast equipment and computers would enhance the learning experience for our students and create efficiencies in news production.

Creating opportunities for remote, rural, and regional reporters to file stories to National Radio News would further enhance coverage in our state bulletins.