For “Journalism: Ethics, Law and Power’s” first major assessment, we were divided into groups of three and given an electorate within Victoria to investigate. My group focussed on the electorate of Gorton, which covers the outer western suburbs of Melbourne. To be able to gain a strong understanding of the political profile and background of the electorate, we decided between ourselves, which area of government we wanted to research and write a hard news story on. I chose local government, as I believed I could write a reasonably good human interest story.
Unfortunately, it was no easy feat writing an article based on conflict, as the story I had chosen to write was about Brimbank Council’s reintroduction of councillors after seven years of administration – due to councillors being sacked in 2009. I experienced a lot of set backs in people not responding to emails and phone calls and refusal for interviews on the topic. In saying this, I persisted and somehow wrote an article from two sources (the only two that replied)!
My hard news article and reflection on the topic is outlined below.
Local News Story:
For: Star Weekly (Brimbank & North West)
Brimbank voters to go to the polls
Brimbank City Council’s elected members will face scrutiny from the community, as they prepare for a democratically-elected council after seven years of administration.
In 2009, the Labor Brumby Government sacked the dysfunctional Brimbank City Council and installed three administrators.
Moonee Ponds Councillor, Jan Chantry, said that there was a lot of “aggravation” in the community during the last Councillors’ reign.
“The community wanted to see their dollars spent wisely and didn’t believe the elected officials at the time could undertake those tasks,” said Cr Chantry.
Representative for Keilor Residents and Ratepayers Association, John Bennett, believes the administrators have done a good job in re-stabilising the community, which is evident from the improved results from the annual community satisfaction surveys.
“Administration has proven that a team of three people can run a council area of 200,000 people effectively,” said Mr Bennett.
During the extended period of administration, Brimbank Chairperson, John Watson and administrators, Jane Nathan and John Tanner, instilled a community first consultative approach to governance.
As Brimbank braces for a return of elected members, Cr Chantry believes the community is prepared for a change in leadership and is looking for representation rather than party-alignment.
“Brimbank has been holding community forums so the expectation is that unaligned community members themselves will put their hands up to run for council,” said Cr Chantry.
Mr Bennett said the new eleven elected members will be watched closely by the community, and groups like the Keilor Residents and Ratepayers Association, will be ready to take action with voters.
“The Keilor Residents and Ratepayers Association will always try to be constructive in dealing with all three levels of Government,” said Mr Bennett.
The Brimbank City Council will go to the polls on October 22nd, coinciding with the Statewide council elections.
Offices from the Department for Environment Land, Water and Planning and The Brimbank Council declined to be interviewed for this article.
In my Fourth Estate role, I encountered many setbacks in trying to cover a political article based on conflict. I attempted to contact nine different sources, and only received two replies back, both of which did not include a sit down interview or a response to specific questions I had formed. Nevertheless, these two responses provided enough basis for a story, so despite not being happy with the outcome, an article was produced.
My journey began with her decision to gain clarity on the issue by seeking out statistics, questionnaires and surveys of resident opinions. Finding an email for a Media and Communications department within Brimbank, I contacted them in the hope of a favourable response. Instead, this department referred the issue to the State Government, as they did not have any authority on the reintroduction of Councillors. I then, optimistically, emailed the Minister for Local Government, Natalie Hutchins, about this query. Failing to gain an answer, I then found a number for the Department for Environment, Land, Water and Planning and spoke with policy maker/staffer, Matthew Cooper, who suggested that she email him the assignment details. After hearing no response, I called him again and Mr Cooper vaguely said that he and his colleagues had not yet “gathered enough information” and that they would “get back to her.”
Amid this uncertainty, I also tried emailing some local Residents and Ratepayers Associations. After not hearing a response from the Sunshine Association (and realising no number was provided), I messaged the Association’s Facebook page and received a response saying that they will pass her query onto “the relevant person,” with no guarantee of a reply. Luckily, a representative for Keilor responded, John Bennett, and provided a backstory on the Council’s demise, how the administrators improved Brimbank and the upcoming election. Unfortunately, he wished not to be interviewed or to answer her specific questions as he did not want to engage in the “conflict side of reporting.”
Browsing through the Brimbank Council site, I thought I would try my luck again with a different department – Community Engagement and yet again was I bluntly told that the council had no interest in the matter. But, I did not stop there with the council, after emailing the Chairperson of Brimbank, John Watson, and hearing no response after a week, I decided to call all three Administrators. Initially after two no response calls, I left a message on her third call, which was not returned.
When I was just about to lose all hope in my role as a student journalist, during one of the class lectures, Moonee Valley Councillor, Jan Chantry, briefly mentioned the sacking of councillors within Brimbank, and as a last resort, I phoned Cr Chantry. Gaining a couple of quotes from this source allowed me to finally gain two sources after a tough couple of weeks.
Image via Brimbank City Council http://www.buzz.brimbank.vic.gov.au/brimbank-votes-in-2016