Bad News

newsanchor_dBy Mike Small

Job losses at The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday has been described by the Scottish Culture Secretary Fiona Hyslop as ‘deeply disappointing’ papering over Stewart Stevenson’s hastily retracted tweet yesterday. But if Stevenson’s tweet was ridiculous – it’s not after all the fault of journalists or workers if the management lacks imagination or if the industry is in freefall – this doesn’t mask the fact that some of the Scotsman’s problems are the Scotsman’s fault.

People seem to be in denial about this, as much else. Journalists response yesterday was hysterical and prompted this from Alyn Smith: “Perhaps serious journalists having time in their busy days to be outraged at twitter is itself a symptom of why we’re all in trouble.”

The losses may lead to the Scotsman’s terminal decline and will now leave two huge media buildings in Scotland – Pacific Quay on the Clyde (built at a cost of £188 million) and the Scotsman’s grand new offices with far fewer people in them than they were intended at a time when we need good quality media in a transformative moment in Scottish history (whatever the referendum result this is true). These buildings are now monuments to the failed old media formats: working on the basis of ‘one to many messaging’; owned by a wealthy proprietor or a national broadcaster.

I know we have to play a game where we have to express deep sorrow for the papers passing but it’s not a game I’m willing too play. Wikipedia has it that: ‘ The Scotsman was launched in 1817 as a liberal weekly newspaper by lawyer William Ritchie and customs official Charles Maclaren in response to the “unblushing subservience” of competing newspapers to the Edinburgh establishment’. Then explains that it’s political alignment is ‘centre-right’ and it’s ‘modern editorial line is firmly anti-independence’. All of which is fine. ‘Write what you like’ as Biko had it. But one of the reasons for the demise is that this combination doesn’t resonate closely with a large cross-section of the Scottish public, or if it does, they have the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times, the Scottish Daily Express, the BBC and a wealth of other media outlets to choose from that are ‘centre-right’ and ‘firmly anti-independence’. It’s a crowded market for a country that has (arguably) a different set of values and (at worst) a substantial section of people pro-independence and undecided.

The decline of the Scotsman, acquired by Johnston Press from Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay in 2005 for £160m, has been rapid with circulation half the 2007 level of 60,627. From the days of Tim ‘Nae’ Luckhurst’s editorial charge (1988-1994) to today we have seen a decade of decline. Not all of this is about poor editorial management. In the mosh pit of contemporary media institutions like the Scotsman have failed to adjust to the many to many shift of media models.

There are deeper failings than ‘not being pro-indy’. In an article on Media Lens David Cromwell writes: “The systematic propaganda of the corporate media – its deep-rooted antipathy towards upholding proper journalistic standards in the public interest – extends to its coverage of human-induced climate change. The Independent recently delivered a masterpiece of headline obfuscation with: ‘World cools on global warming as green fatigue sets in.’

In other words how can corporate media hold a torch to a world that it is the product of?

The backlash against the Leveson proposals have highlighted a further absurdity of the contemporary corporate media-world. Screaming like spoilt brats they are responding with unconcealed shock at the idea that anyone should regulate them – this despite the catalogue of extreme abusive behaviour witnessed over decades of tabloidisation of our entire society and charted methodically by Leveson.

The Scotsman and other mainstream media scream ‘press freedom’ while serving up a product of enforced idiocy, cultural moronism and repeated messages of deference. Last week the Scotsman published a front page article headlined ‘New images show the Queen relaxing at the Balmoral’. That this was pointed out to be a low-point of journalistic investigative inquiry put the business editor Peter McMahon into a real lather. Some have suggested that the point is not that the paper is right wing or left wing or pro-indy or anti, it’s just not very good.

oldwomanrelaxes

So where do we go? Media Lens again asks simply, how is a corporate newspaper able to uphold the nine cardinal principles of journalism set out by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism?:

• Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth
• Its first loyalty is to citizens
• It must serve as an independent monitor of power
• It must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise
The new media does that and will emerge to do it better and more sustainably in the next year. Multi-platform publishing forms are rapidly evolving and improving and becoming more affordable. The democratisation of media is a runaway train that’s not stopping any time soon. Like our footballing infrastructure we are going through a traumatic process of change, but change is needed because the old models have failed.
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16 replies

  1. Like our football institutions newspapers are mere playthings of the wealthy and powerful, used to bolster egos, entertain clients but most of all to be used for corporate lobbying. Factual information and news? Way down the list.

    Kevin W

  2. “…papering over Stewart Stevenson’s hastily retracted tweet yesterday. But if Stevenson’s tweet was ridiculous…”

    I actually thought Stewart Stevenson’s tweet was extremely restrained especially as the Scotsman was part of the media orchestrated witch hunt which in the end made him decide to resign as Transport Minister after unpredicted snow and freezing weather conditions caused weather chaos in Scotland in December 2010.

    The media witch hunt against Stewart Stevenson should always be compared with the media treatment of the then UK transport Minister Phil Hammond who was given kid-glove treatment by the media even though the weather chaos in England was far worse than that in Scotland.

    The Scotsman was part of the media “get the SNP at all costs” pack which cost him his Ministerial job and took down a very able minister. In the light of that I think he was very polite about the Scotsman’s troubles.

    There’s a lot of people out there who are squealing and having the vapours because Stewart wasn’t properly deferential to a paper which did him no favours. He should have left that tweet up.

  3. Didn’t see the tweet at the time but not exactly sure what”s wrong with it, the reaction led me to believe he’d been cheering from the rooftops at the job losses. And I hear as of midday today BBC folks are on strike.

  4. My point is you can separate criticism of the Scotsman with sympathy for people losing their jobs

  5. Wow, those 9 principles are excellent, and the mainstream media really do a spectacular job of missing all of them.

    1. JOURNALISM’S FIRST OBLIGATION IS TO THE TRUTH – MSM’s first obligation is to profit.
    2. ITS FIRST LOYALTY IS TO CITIZENS – MSM loyalty is to its owners & advertisers.
    3. ITS ESSENCE IS A DISCIPLINE OF VERIFICATION – MSM regularly gets things wrong due to speed being put ahead of accuracy to feed 24-hour rolling news.
    4. ITS PRACTITIONERS MUST MAINTAIN AN INDEPENDENCE FROM THOSE THEY COVER – Hahaha!!! Well, Leveson fairly exposed THAT one.
    5. IT MUST SERVE AS AN INDEPENDENT MONITOR OF POWER – Except where the British State is concerned. Or the interests of big business. The MSM is an apologist for those in power.
    6. IT MUST PROVIDE A FORUM FOR PUBLIC CRITICISM AND COMPROMISE – Except in the case of the BBC, where comments are not allowed, and all criticism is wrong because the BBC is infallible.
    7. IT MUST STRIVE TO MAKE THE SIGNIFICANT INTERESTING AND RELEVANT – Unless “the significant” happens to threaten the interests of the British State or big business.
    8. IT MUST KEEP THE NEWS COMPREHENSIVE AND PROPORTIONAL – Aye, screaming from the rooftops that an old briefing paper is a “secret dossier” that purports to show the Scottish Government saying “one thing in public, another thing in private”, while treating McCrone as a minor story, is really proportional…
    9. ITS PRACTITIONERS MUST BE ALLOWED TO EXERCISE THEIR PERSONAL CONSCIENCE – For the sake of those who peddle the shite we’re fed on a daily basis, I only hope this one ISN’T true.

    Excuse me if I don’t cry myself to sleep while the lying corporate media gasps for air…

  6. I did not see Stewart Stevenson’s tweet but his reaction to the crisis at The Scotsman does not seem to be exreme. I can certainly state that I stopped buying The Hootsman about ten years ago after faithfully supporting it for more than thirty years. I stopped reading it around 2011 and only occasionally now glance at it online. Clearly lots of others have done what I have done.
    While I feel sympathy for anyone losing their job I certainly would have difficulty in working for such an organisation and I feel no obligation to support it. I see that ex -MSP David Whitton has been highly ctritical of Stewart Stevenson -”well he would wouldn’t he” – but then again he lost his job for the same reason.

  7. If the paper had hounded me like they did Stewart Stevenson,I would have held a party,then I’m not of the forgiving nature.When somebody is the “author of their own demise” (albeit slowly) they deserve nothing,dishonesty can be by omission as well as blatant lies.They have been guilty of both,in my opinion.The truth and integrity must have been kept in storage as they seem not to be using much of either.What they could or couldn’t do or did makes not at lot of difference,and those that lost their jobs,were they always following the “Fleet Street diktat?” and so helped in their own loss,or did they try and stand for the impartial reporting? Too many newspapers have a power without any responsibility they steer a lot of citizens to vote or elect their choice of candidate,by not giving the whole truth or indeed sometimes any of the truth just their political affiliated opinion.Papers that fail do so by being dogmatic and refusing to be more open to the opinion of others importantly their readership.I am tempted to say serves them right but that is not nice although true.

  8. I like this common sense from Stephen Sedley at the London Review of Books on the press laws which back up my point:

    “The first thing that should be said about the current controversy is that nothing resembling press licensing – the prior authorisation of publications – is being proposed by anyone. Even in its strong form, regulation is concerned with redressing and in extreme cases penalising journalistic misconduct. Prior restraint is a matter for the courts, as the press accepted when it got constraints on the granting of injunctions written into the 1998 Human Rights Act.

    The case for strong-form regulation – universal statutory oversight of all news media, which is what Lord McCluskey’s committee has just proposed for Scotland – is that it separates compensation and redress for victims of press misconduct from penalties for outrageous conduct. There is no good reason why such penalties, in the form of exemplary damages, should go into the pocket of a victim who has already been awarded proper compensatory damages, but every reason why a media outlet which casually violates people’s privacy or reputation in pursuit of circulation should find that such conduct does not pay. Yet compensatory damages for being libelled, if calibrated, as they arguably should be, to the fixed damages of just under £12,000 which are awarded by statute for the no less devastating experience of bereavement caused by someone’s negligence, could be paid out of a large media organisation’s petty cash. An independent regulator with penal powers is a perfectly reasonable solution.”

  9. “… But if Stevenson’s tweet was ridiculous …”
    I don’t think it is/was ridiculous and neither did the huge majority of commenters BTL on the Guardian’s web site when the news was published. And it is no good you trying to paper over the matter with comments like … ” it’s not after all the fault of journalists or workers if the management lacks imagination …”. While it may not be “the workers” fault, most of the Scotsman’s problems are down to the anti- SNP/Independence editorial line it follows, which includes its journalists constantly demeaning Scotland, Scots and their aspirations. The journalists and editorial staff are certainly responsible for that and they apparently take great satisfaction in spinning lies and half truths about all political matters concerning the SNP in Scotland, not to mention refusing to print items which are favourable to the Independence case. Changing that IS within their province. Even people who don’t support Independence get fed up with the constant put downs and scare stories.
    Stop making excuses for them. In my view the sooner the Scotsman goes to the wall the better. Maybe it should try journalism, you know, where it provides facts and opinion about all matters without the lies and spin.

    • Well we don’t have a lot to disagree with, I just think it’s a bit simplistic to say: ‘most of the Scotsman’s problems are down to the anti- SNP/Independence editorial line it follows, which includes its journalists constantly demeaning Scotland, Scots and their aspirations.’

  10. Mike:
    “…they have the Daily Mail, the Telegraph, the Times, the Scottish Daily Express, the BBC and a wealth of other media outlets to choose from that are ‘centre-right’ and ‘firmly anti-independence’. It’s a crowded market…”

    That is a correct assessment of the Scotsman’s (and the Herald’s) problem. If the public in Scotland want to buy an anti-independence paper they have lots to choose from. The Scotsman is trying to go for the same readership which is being targeted by richer and more successful papers published in England.

    Targeting a pro-independence readership may not have saved the Scotsman but they’ve achieved the remarkable feat of abandoning the only editorial line which would have differentiated them from the English based papers while at the same time losing the only readers who could have formed a stable niche market for them.

  11. Maybe if someone had the vision to see past the animosity against the SNP and considered for a moment just what a newly Independent nation will look like and it is coming make no mistake. Then what a great time for a title like The Scotsman to return to it’s principles and become the country’s daily newspaper trusted to be straight with the people and become a real influence in shaping the new future so many Scots long for!

  12. Publishers and senior editorial staff have to carry their share of the blame for the ongoing demise of this title. The press industry in general is under tremendous pressure on many fronts. New technologies and social trends, economic recession biting into advertising revenue, market shrinkage and political pressure, negative publicity generated by the Leveson inquiry tarring all news sources with the same nasty stain.

    More essential than ever at this point is the strategy of the publisher and his senior staff. With all these other factors in evidence the senior staff had a simple choice, to lose a politically biased stance which was clearly angering a significant sector of their readership and potential readership market or carry on regardless. Even if the publication flat refused to back the clearly more popular trend they could have chosen the position of neutrality and objective reportage. They did not and simply added another rock to the pile already on their back. I honestly feel for anyone losing their jobs right now, but have little or no sympathy for the publisher and senior staff who played their part in putting them in that position through their fiscal ineptitude, suicidal and overt political bias and poor editorial choices.

  13. Clearly it would be loads better if we just had newsnet, where anonoymous unaacountable reporters only publish the news that indy supporters would like to hear.
    ohbut the Herald and scotsman pubs still have LOADS more online readers than newsnet and BellyacheCaledonia. somaybe blinkered nationalism news isn’t the solution after all,
    And stevenson was sour and ridiculous – anyone who can’t recognise that really is a lost cause and doesn’t deserve to part of compassionate Scotland

  14. I have the utmost sympathy for these people, they truly are the victims. This news has stunned the local community. Perhaps their is a silver lining in seeing how this tragedy has galvanised people into action – I’ve heard the residents of the Salvation army hostel 400m up the street are planning a candlelit vigil, whilst the residents of Dumbiedykes have left a number of tasteful floral tributes.

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