The CBAA 2012 Conference: Access All Areas has kicked off with a bang! The SYN bloggers– or “kids” as a representative from North West FM called us – commandeered a table up the back, close to the all-important powerpoints. Greens MP Adam Bandt gave the opening address, mentioning the strength of community radio in Melbourne and how nice it was to be in a room full of community radio enthusiasts (hear hear!). Although he normally sits on the other side of the desk now, Bandt reminded us that he was once operating the panel at 3CR. Voicing the opinions of many in the room, Bandt stressed that community radio plays a vital role in the Australian media landscape, making our society more inclusive and bringing local issues to fore. At 9.19am, Bandt was the first to say that community radio runs on the smell of an oily rag, a cliche that is unfortunately all too true.

Wurundjeri Elder, Uncle Bill Nicholson was running a little late, but when he arrived, he gave a great welcome to country, speaking of the importance of language, cross-cultural communication and storytelling.

CBAA President Adrian Basso then took the floor, asking everyone in the room to stand up for a bit of audience participation that did not involve a hashtag. His first question -have you ever broadcast from a shopping centre? You were only allowed to sit down when your radio station had answered yes. The SYN bloggers valiantly stood standing until arts and culture programming was mentioned, having never broadcast from a prison or had programs on fishing or farming. Basso then got down to business, discussing the now tenuous status of the Community Broadcasting Digital Radio Project despite previous promises from the Federal Communications Minister, Senator Stephen Conroy.

The main show was, of course, the Keynote Address from Stephen Mayne, founder of online independent news service Crikey, shareholder activist and Melbourne City Councillor. He was introduced by Basso as a professional lid lifter, and went on to refer to himself as a professional rock thrower and stirrer. He stressed the importance of community radio, Triple R in particular, in raising the profile of Crikey in its early days, and mentioned that he is always discovering new gems from the community sector on his radio dial. His address centred on the changing media landscape, which he says is in the greatest period of crisis in memory. He detailed the current crises in commercial radio and print media organisations, and reeled off a list of shocking statistics on the plummeting profits and share prices of traditional media organisations. “Everywhere is hurting, we have never seen such pain”, said Mayne. Due to the concentration of ownership in the Australian media industry, Mayne stated that “it is more important than ever for the diversity of voices to come through the internet and from community radio”.

He warned community radio stations of the perils of being overly reliant on one tier of government funding for their revenue, and encouraged stations to diversify their funding sources and to consider ethical corporate sponsorship from like-minded businesses. Mayne stated that being a journalist was one of the most rewarding jobs, but lamented the fact that too many would-be journalists are heading into PR because of better job security.

He argued that the best antidote for the current crisis in journalism was legislation forcing full disclosure of information and a much higher level of accountability from government and the private sector. In this imagined future, the journalist’s role would be to contextualise this deluge of information for the general public. The biggest sticking point? Mayne stated that there will be few well-paid jobs for journalists, and that lots of this journalistic work will be done by poorly paid journalists or volunteers.

To counter this rather dire picture, Mayne reminded those struggling to find their way in the current media landscape that everything comes back to quality of the content, and stressed that if you make great content, people (and hopefully a real job?) will come.

Written by Georgia Moodie