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Independent journalist Geoff Helisma and his sidekick, Iggy Pup; she knows how to sniff out a good story. Image: Lynn Mowbray

A journalistic life, what’s the story?

I started working at the then Lower Clarence Review in 2003; I’d been an avid newspaper reader since the age of five (although it was the comics in those days).

Landing this job was a case of third time lucky over a period of years.

I had been un/underemployed for some time, despite applying for many jobs for which I was over-qualified.

As it turned out, it was the perfect job for my busy, enquiring mind; and it provided me with an opportunity to make a difference.

Reflecting on the past 17 years, I have come to realise that I hold a privileged position: I have met many people from all walks of life; and I have told their stories, best exemplified by a comment I have heard on numerous occasions – “I didn’t even remember that until you asked me those questions.”

A more serious aspect of my role is to report and question all forms of governance that affects the lives of the valley’s people; this, I believe, is my most essential and important duty.

Sometimes, when the going gets tough, when people in power – councillors, politicians, bureaucrats and the like – dodge or get upset about the questions I ask on behalf of the wider community, I look over my shoulder and read the words of award-winning journalist Kate McClymont, spoken in her speech at the 2014 Andrew Olle Media Lecture: “All journalists should use the same tools – curiosity, scepticism and the willingness to take the road less travelled.

“As journalists we should have the courage to act for more than the lofty notion of free speech.

“We have a duty to be the voice of the powerless in our society, to stand up for them – this should be why we do our job.

“As journalists we have the privilege of an insider’s view of what really happens in our society and we have the ability to change it.

“Whether you are a war correspondent, a reporter on the local paper or an investigative journalist, you have the ability to make a difference, to hold people to account, to right wrongs.”

Gratefully, my employment at the Independent has largely allowed me to work in the spirit of the paper’s title.

Serving a regional area made up of many smaller communities is a challenge, each having its own cultural and social norms, however, as Kate McClymont said during her speech, “Most stories come up by chatting to people – in the park, on the sidelines of school sport, or at parties.”

Interestingly, since she made that observation, the rise of social media, particularly Facebook, as a communication tool for interest groups, associations, community forums and governing bodies, has added to that dynamic, with people publishing their views for all to see.

Unfortunately, though, social media and the digitisation of newspapers and advertising, I believe, have profoundly altered the mediascape at all levels – from local to international – and given rise to a growing cynical cohort who don’t trust the media.

Sadly, many media outlets exploit the ability of people to freely communicate across digital platforms – it’s no coincidence that this phenomenon has helped facilitate the rise of powerful, ideologically partisan media outlets.

As a result, journalism is suffering a trust deficit as vociferous commentators take up more of the mediascape than they should be entitled to.

It seems many people in the media have forgotten that journalism is supposed to be objective; forgotten that journalistic objectivity is not a trait one is born with, but a skill that requires constant nurturing.

Good journalism is like science – where one sits on the ideological spectrum is not a motivation to mould a story to suit pre-determined narratives, it is the fuel that energises an enquiring mind – whatever the facts are, however they were determined, that is the STORY.

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