By Mike Small
Asking Ian Jack to write about new media is a little like asking Ray Reardon to comment on Grand Theft Auto. From a man who seems to have made a living writing a column about steam trains and tea rooms in Bute in the 1950s, it’s like having a vision of Scotland projected to the world each week that assumes we’re all sooking soor-plooms between sips of sweet tea from our tartan thermos.
Writing in the Guardian (‘The Scottish press is in decline – could it hold an independent Scotland to account?‘) Jack misses so many targets in a week where commenting on the media in and about Scotland is like shooting fish in a barrel, it’s both sad and extraordinary he retains a column in what is probably still Britain’s best newspaper.
The most obvious issue is that the problem ISN’T about holding to account and independent Scotland it’s in the here and now where bizarre failings are exposed daily. In the La La Land of Unionist complacency this could never be a problem – but a cursory glance at the coverage of Vote No Borders would yield a yawning gulf between our current media offerings and emerging new forms.
The issue has been covered all over the place so I won’t bore you with repeating the arguments. See the following: Craig Murray, National Collective, Doug Daniel - and no doubt a dozen I’ve overlooked.
Jack’s outlook is laid clear from early on when he states, having recovered from the shock of discovering (via Iain Macwhirter) that the Scotsman has shed 80% of its readers since the Johnston Press bought it, and the Johnston share price has collapsed from 450p to 24p:
Outside the loss of jobs, does it matter? Several of the London papers still have Scottish editions – anyone with an interest in the world beyond Britain would need to read one in any case, because no purely Scottish newspaper can afford more than minimal foreign coverage.
It’s a rather elegantly beautiful concept that a) a Scottish media in the 21C just couldn’t have any international coverage and b) an alternative would be for us to just take a copy of The Times.
Presumably Ian thinks that the news is still delivered by steam train from all points of the Empire and comes through London first on its way – chuff chuff – North?
Struggling with Macwhirter’s crystal clear analysis of the failings of the Scottish press, its ownership, it’s editorial and its residual, if decrepit power base, Jack continues spluttering:
The Johnston Press is Scottish, as is DC Thomson; they own three mornings, three evenings and two Sundays between them – every newspaper published in Edinburgh, Dundee and Aberdeen. None of them is in the Yes camp either.
The last sentence doesn’t really make sense, but let’s ignore that.
Jack’s counter-explanation to Iain is that it’s all about age, not politics:
Then again, it may be something simpler: newspapers with tumbling circulations are inclined to try to hang on to their old audiences rather than to pursue new ones, which is increasingly the mission of news websites, where experiment and failure come at a far lower cost. Scotland has several good ones, mainly nationalist by inclination and sometimes crowdsourced, but the chances that any will ever earn enough revenue to sustain even one full-time reporter over the long term are remote.
No they’re not. They exist now.
This is just bad journalism from the old school big boys. Just like Magnus Gardham boasting earlier in the week. Why check the facts?! “Why would I do that?” as he asked on the phone when challenged about the Electoral Commission propaganda he was spouting.
Next week Bella launches for the first time with a full-time staff member (me!) – plus three columnists. Newsnet has similar, as do several other vibrant new media projects. Will we survive beyond the referendum? Absolutely yes we will because the process of the referendum is about splitting open and exposing power relations, and people are sick of the failed press models. We’re building resilient bases for being around for the long-haul.
The deep irony of Ian Jack reminiscing plaintively about the need for ‘the scrutiny of an intelligent press’ is overwhelming.
In a week when we’ve seen Andy Coulson on trial, Max Clifford jailed and the latest outburst from the state funded multi-millionaire racist Jeremy Clarkson, I don’t have to make the case for the problems in mainstream media culture.
It’s not just about who owns the press, it’s about the relentless sexism and objectification of women, the moronism and inanity of celebrity culture and the unconscious framing of ‘national’ debate through the dominant forms of broadcast.
The ‘slow death of proper journalistic inquiry into many aspects of Scottish life’ of which Ian Jack complains is something many of us have been watching for the past few decades. That’s nothing new. But now we have tools to democratise information media, and that’s what we’re going to do.