The Illawarra Mercury reporting team is bringing you a weekly series of behind-the-scenes insights, exclusive to our subscribers. Today's piece is written by Illawarra Mercury editor Julian O'Brien.
Essentially journalism is about telling stories. Yet there is so much more to it than that, particularly in regional areas.
Regional journalism is about being a voice for a community. Giving the people a platform in the hope that it makes that community a better place to live.
As an editor for more than a decade, I've had the pleasure of working with two of the best health reporters a community or an editor could possibly ask for.
Journalists who have understood how they can change outcomes for the better through the stories they tell. Journalists who go out of their way to understand the issues faced by their community and how governments can help to address them.
The journalism of Libby Bingham on the North-West Coast of Tasmania played a key role in then Prime Minister John Howard and his Health Minister Tony Abbott stepping in to save the Mersey Hospital from closure by the Tasmanian government in 2007.
Here in the Illawarra, the work of the Illawarra Mercury's health reporter and deputy editor Lisa Wachsmuth has played a vital role in securing the announcement of a new $700 million hospital for Shellharbour.
The NSW government initially promised to redevelop the ailing and ageing Shellharbour hospital as part of an election commitment in 2015, yet the following year announced a plan for part privatisation. But the community rallied to see those plans scrapped with the government recommitting to its own redevelopment on the current site.
A large group of doctors from across the Illawarra Shoalhaven Local Health District first penned a letter to the Mercury in 2016 to oppose the public-private partnership, and in 2018 they again turned to the Illawarra Mercury calling for more funding for a new hospital, on a new site.
It would prove to be a critical point in the debate surrounding the future of the Shellharbour Hospital, a debate which this week saw the huge commitment for a new facility to be built on a greenfield site. It will stand as one of the most significant and important announcements the Illawarra has seen for a long time.
Lisa's role was this week recognised by the Member for Kiama, Gareth Ward, who sent this message, which I share with his permission.
"I want to pay special tribute to Mercury journalist Lisa Wachsmuth who is not only a highly competent journalist, she has been a passionate advocate for improving health services in our region," Mr Ward said.
"Lisa has been there covering this story from the very beginning. Lisa's tremendous advocacy for the region's healthcare and her reporting contributed to today's announcement."
The professional, crafted storytelling of the Mercury's health reporter, taking the time to understand the issues at hand and communicating them to both readers and government, have helped make this community a better place.
That is the heart of good journalism.
Julian O'Brien is the editor of the Illawarra Mercury and the former editor of The Advocate on the North-West Coast of Tasmania.