The creation and progression of a new media alternative to the mainstream in Scotland is a fascinating story in itself.
It’s come a long way from the early days. With one of the biggest political decisions people in Scotland are ever likely to make on the horizon with the independence referendum, the creators of alternative media platforms knew that the battle between information and propaganda was going to be murky.
It didn’t take much analysis of media ownership and political friendship in the UK to guess that the mainstream media would be on the unionist side of ‘objective’.
The problem was not that media outlets sometimes take a stand on big political events, it was that they were taking the same one. Other than the Sunday Herald, a weekly newspaper, the UK mainstream media either declined to back Yes or No – like the Daily Record, although it did deliver ‘The Vow’ regardless – or declared in favour of the union.
But this time, on this big political decision, there was unlikely competition on the media front. The rocketing popularity of websites like Bella Caledonia, Wings Over Scotland and Newsnet Scotland ahead of the referendum took most by surprise – not least those running the websites.
This sudden eruption in support – including financial, new media sites in Scotland have now raised funds directly from readers in the six-figure region – was not just about the referendum, and it’s foolish to write it off as such. The referendum was simply the catalyst for a long overdue shake up of media in Scotland.
Scotland’s media is considered regional; it often feels tokenistic, even, with its bland, box-ticking stories. The ‘important’ reporting takes place in London, and as with so many other industries, the lure of a more successful career in the UK capital pulls industry talent out of Scotland.
What’s left in the country is consistently hit with cuts from publishers struggling with a less profitable financial model thanks to the rise of digital news and free content. There should no longer be any doubt on this point: mainstream newspaper publishers use journalism as a vehicle to sell advertising and make money, and the journalism will never be more important than the money.
The referendum was the kind of big political event required for people to believe there is an alternative to the old structures, the old way of doing things – and in Scotland that extended to the media, not just the politics.
This is why, following the referendum, these websites have gone from strength to strength. And it’s why Common Weal was able to fund and launch CommonSpace, which was set up to provide a rolling news service which generates its own news stories. This is an important step forward, and in six months CommonSpace has broken a string of exclusive stories.
The work of reporter Liam O’Hare, who broke the Dungavel detention centre hunger strike story, has helped ensure serious concerns about the treatment of asylum seekers in Scotland is on the political map. Michael Gray’s investigation into bullying allegations at Argyll and Bute Council gave a voice to members of a community who’ve been fighting an almost silent battle for years, while Ben Wray’s work on the Glasgow Clyde College crisis made sure students’ concerns were not ignored.
These are not stories about the referendum. These are not stories about independence. These stories are about people’s lives, people’s realities in Scotland, and the support we’ve had from readers has been massive.
CommonSpace is not restricted by the rules of old media; we are not funded by advertising revenue, there is no reason for us to compete with other outlets for funding in the same way media traditionally has.
Our motto is collaboration, not competition. We work with Scotland’s other new media outlets, and we work with mainstream media outlets, to make sure the great work of the new media in Scotland can reach as wide an audience as possible.
And so in celebration of this new landscape, and of this alternative way of approaching media, we’re throwing a big party and everyone is invited. Scotland’s other new media outlets will have a big presence at our official launch party on 21 June at Glasgow Art School. We will have some well-known faces from the mainstream media there, too, as well as the many individual bloggers and contributors to Scotland’s digital news and views landscape.
There will be speakers, entertainment, some free beer and if you want to know why we’ve printed ‘Moodie Masks’ of cartoonist Greg Moodie’s best creations, you better get your tickets for the party quick.
From indyref to the General Election and beyond, the new media in Scotland has established its place and is making a significant contribution to journalism in Scotland. It has been hard work, and it would be impossible without the support of all of the readers and supporters.
So join us on Sunday for a well-deserved drink and a big celebration – it’s time to take stock of everything that has been achieved, and to get ambitious for the future.
Reserve your ticket here.