The good, the bad and the downright exhilarating

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    This anniversary, going back over the years of Gulf News and its deeply embedded role in the island community, the exercise has not seemed so much about what happened, but more about how we were about our world back then.  

    With hindsight, we seemed pretty uncompromising, partying hard, but also fiercely embracing every important principle – from three versions of preschool education to fighting apartheid and tilting at visiting warships in a determined attempt to save our children from nuclear winter. 

    Our island demographic was high on over-educated parents and low on household income – in other words, we’d individually made lifestyle choices that didn’t include streetlights or posh clothes. 

    We drew curtains and watched subversive documentaries about giant American corporations tipping rubbish in mountain valleys and patenting global seed stocks, while developing a local culture of festivals and can-do solutions that made our name as game-changers. 

    It was the last of the golden era of egalitarian wellbeing that had stretched through the post-war 50s and 60s. Barring nuclear apocalypse, we had a dynamic sense of a future when we would have knocked off global poverty and opportunity would flow for everyone.

    When Kath Alber and I from Gulf News attended the New Zealand Community Newspaper Association’s annual conference at the Logan Campbell Centre in the late 1980s, there were 600 people in the room from a hundred small newspapers around the country. 

    Some of them had been in the same ownership for a century; about half of them were in the ownership of Independent Newspapers Ltd and the NZ Herald, and would soon be owned offshore but, in the meantime, all shared a bonanza of national and local advertising and good profitability. Which turned out to be the seeds of disaster.

    Globalisation arrived and if you weren’t in the big bucks, life got grayer and harder. Including for small newspapers, many of which were gobbled up and eventually closed down in the feeding frenzy for acquisitions and offshore profits for the two Australian owned conglomerates. 

    That’s now gone full cycle. The big boys have killed their golden goose and folded their tents. 

    But even as that plays out, the number of new newspapers serving their own tight communities has doubled in the last few years. 

    The importance of these surviving and thriving new hyper-local newspapers as the glue of their communities is now making national debate, at least on radio. 

    “The cornerstone of democracy,” Thomas Jefferson once wrote, “rests on the foundation of an educated electorate.” But how educated can a society of skimmers really be? A 2013 study in the Newspaper Research Journal found that Times readers recalled more stories and specific details in print than they did online. 

    The results are important, the study said, in distinguishing “the modern role newspapers play in maintaining an informed citizenry. 

    “The electorate has never been fully informed, but that’s typically by voter choice. Online news, the research says, could make it impossible to be informed—even for those who want to be.”

    At the conference on game-changing global initiatives I went to in California late last month, we ignored the distracting crust of global politics (Donald Trump wasn’t mentioned once).  Instead, the enquiry dug into the many initiatives already being developed for restoring the climate but also for regenerating healthy, connected, communities, citizen participation across all age groups and successful models of education. 

    What stood out for me was the urgent need to put the young (and by extension, the women of the species) back into the human value equation that globalisation has demolished. 

    Actually, to put everyone back in the frame.  

    That’s something local community newspapers do best.  Skilled, professional, properly researched news to keep the buggers honest, yes, but also features that keep us knowing each other’s triumphs, tragedies, passions and aspirations, the weird and the magnificent.

    So we see each other with affection. Whole, alive, connected, vital and in action in the world as it is.

    We’ve enjoyed putting together this anniversary issue of Gulf News, tracking down the stories that made us and recognising the people we shared the journey with and the heroes whose seemingly unending contributions launched successive generations of our young into the world so successfully. • Liz Waters

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