Analyse This

 

People (including this writer) have been willing the oncoming digital media-revolution since at least 2007. That, in this day and age is millennia ago. Last week after the Tunisian semi-revolution (ish) there was lots of giddy talk about Twitter rebellions (again). There’s even been talk of the iPhone election. I’ve been re-writing the same article in hopeless expectation for at least three years now. Some of it remains true:

“Media changes politics. B92 was a beacon in Belgrade as Yugolsavia transformed itself. The penny press changed 18th-century British democracy. The photocopier brought down the Soviet Union. Now, blogging, vlogging and camcorder activists have altered the flow of information from top down to bottom up and outwards.”

Well, maybe not vlogging.

So what’s stopping the media revolution? Post-Coulson, Tramadol Nights and Jordan (Katie not Joe) it seems that the revolution will be trivialised. Tabloidisation of society – never mind the media – is almost complete. The idea that blogging was the new punk, that citizen journalism would help transform the Scottish news experience and political agenda, that the unionist grip on news coverage would be blasted away is overblown. Partly because politicians don’t believe in anything any more. *

So what’s to write about? AV? The difference between Tory v Labour tax policy?  Venal Liberals? Or to take another example, everyone is geared up for digital telly but hunners of thoosands will be watching low-grade programme content on massive flat screens. That’ll be a plasma 3D HD wireless, but your still watching Come Fly With Me.

But the good news is newspapers are dying, and journalism is changing. Anyone can create content now and – while clearly some of it is crap – some of it is better than your professional hack. The once discredited profession of journalism is now further tarnished: from Diana and the murderous Papparazzi to Murdoch and the News of the World. But nobody really cares.

Before we delve in – here’s a few circulation facts ‘n’ figures…

Recently published figures show that “December’s ABCs show nothing, but nothing but newspaper sales decline.” Only one national title, buoyed by advertising campaign spend, managed a positive growth rate in the last four weeks of 2010.

Here are the figures that I think really matter:

Daily newspapers lost just under 800,000 sales compared to December 2009, an 8.15 percent decline.
Sunday papers lost almost 690,000 year on year, a 7.15 percent decline.

The Sunday Times Scotland has closed after a brief attempt to create a sort of Tory-supporting ‘quality’ it flopped and sacked its staff. The Sunday Herald, arguably on the other side politically staggers on but would anyone really be surprised if it folded? Not really.

Looking across the Scottish papers we can see continuing month to month declines:

Scottish News of the World 245,268 (compared to 258,288 for November), Sunday Post 215,387 (compared to 226,274), Scottish Daily Mail 105,193 (112,404), Scottish Mail on Sunday 98,312 (100,016), Daily Star of Scotland 66,803 (75,595), Scottish Daily Express 65,768 (69,917), Sunday Times Scotland 56,884 (59,239), The Herald 51,286 (52,545), Scotland on Sunday 45,996 (52,912), The Scotsman 40,650 (41,752), Sunday Herald 39,687 (41,314), Scottish Sunday Express 35,154 (35,035), Daily Star of Scotland – Sunday 25,625 (26,220), Scottish Daily Mirror 22,837 (24,343), Scottish Sunday Mirror 22,640 (21,995), The Times 20,321 (21,586), Daily Telegraph 18,882 (20,609), The Observer 16,952 (17,991), Sunday Telegraph 16,864 (17,715), The Guardian 12,921 (13,607), People 12,264 (13,328), The Independent 7765 (7909), Independent on Sunday 6123 (6278), and Financial Times 3641 (4164).

Even Scotland’s biggest-selling newspaper, the Sunday Mail (sad but true), was down in December 2010 at 338,508. In November, it was 350,883; in October, it was 354,396; and in September it was 356,313. The Scottish Sun  (which outsells the Daily Record in Aberdeen, Dundee and Edinburgh by 3:1, 2:1 and 1.5) is also in decline (The Scottish Sun’s average daily sale in Scotland was 314,897 in December 2010 (compared with 338,246 in November).

But there’s a problem in thinking that all these thousands of people NOT reading newspapers are reading this blog or your blog. First they might just be reading the same old rubbish from their old newspaper but online.  This is certainly true of the Guardian who’s declining print sales are eclipsed by its soaring online traffic but it’s certainly not true of the woeful Scotsman and Herald websites. Under investment and lack of innovation and design are, er, apparent.

Second the newspaper decline seems to have pre-dated the arrival of broadband. According to the Gruniad it’s something about the break up of mass society:

“The most profound change since the 1980s, the period that marks the major circulation turning point for nationals, is the twin phenomenon of a fragmentation of society and a fragmentation of media. Newspapers in their sales heyday in the 1960s reflected the segmentation of society in terms of social class: the leftish working class masses bought the Daily Mirror while the rightward-leaning working class bought the Daily Express. Similarly, the intellectual and political elite bought the Times while the solid middle class chose the Daily Telegraph. It is clear that as individualism became more prevalent in society, certainly by the 1990s, the old forms of broadcasting media began to break up, allowing people wide choice of TV and radio and, eventually, infinite choice through the computer terminal.”

Third, the blogs, social media and the like are transient, fragmented and over-dosing on information.  As Jason Fry put it “There’s an impermanence to social media that undermines its sense of connection.”

So what of the Scottish alternative press? If the papers are collapsing is everyone racing online to get their news fix?

Most of the big blogs like James Kelly’s Scotland Goes Pop, Go Lassie Go, Lallands Peat Worrier etc get around 1000 page views  an article. Some get more – James Doleman’s excellent coverage of the Sheridan Trial got huge figures, but this isn’t really sustainable beyond the media moment. And, whilst Newsnet’s figures seem good, it’s hard to see whether it can break beyond the accusation that it’s where cybernats ‘meet and greet’ as one critic had it. In other words it might confirm nationalists belief in the cause but I’m not sure it’s going to convince a swithering voter.

As one Scottish blogger put it: “I did have a big one-off burst of traffic two or three months ago when I wrote a post about the notorious Question Time edition from Glasgow – a lot of people linked to it from social networking/bookmarking sites (and other blogs).  I suppose that’s a small example of how people will turn to alternative media when the MSM fail to cover a story they feel strongly about.”

In a sense then there is an inter-change between the detritus of the mainstream media and a viceral reaction against that.

I don’t know if others – Better Nation? Or others? – are doing much better than this. One journalist told me: “Everyone’s saying the i-pad could be the saviour of newspapers. But given the lack of investment by the Scotsman and Herald, that might not apply to them.” Which is true, the Scotsman still reads like a load of cobblers even if you’ve got the grooviest gadget in your hands. The contents still a load of havers.

The good news? Scottish blogging is getting better and better. There’s a flush of great new blogs every month. There’s more collaboration, more choice and better quality writing. Kenneth Roy’s Scottish Review, Robin McAlpine’s Scottish Left Review, a’body’s Indymedia and Newsnet are permanent landmarks.  The SNP are about to launch a major ‘vertical social media’ project and seem leaps and bounds ahead of Labours online output. This is Central Station and Stuart Cosgrove’s 38 Minutes offer the creative community a platform and a system. But for me that sort of offering is still lacking the political community.

The point is blogs are essentially columnists with loyalty. What we need is to bring them all together. Then you would have lift-off.

* I think ecology and nationalism are the exceptions to this rule.

Comments (14)

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  1. lenathehyena says:

    Usual high standard Mike.

    You are absolutely right about how important the transfer of information is to political change but I suppose it’s hard to be sure while living through changes exactly what kind impact they are having.

    While the extent of mindless pap consumption on tv and via the internet is dispiriting and the level apathy among, it sometimes seems, the majority of the population – it is just possible that given the right circumstances people will become engaged. You have to hope.

    I share your welcome of the demise of newspapers as well, despairing for the lamentable state of journalism in this country while welcoming the explosion of blogs. At least bloggers offer a variety of views which can’t be said for the mainstream press. There are no truly national newspapers. Living in the NE it is clear that news ends some couple of hundred miles away. I admit this view is not based on any knowledge of the Daily Record, the Sun etc – as I wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole.

    I suspect most people in Scotland get their news from STV and BBC Scotland – which is worrying. STV in my view is slightly better than BBC Scotland which is really dire (certainly in this area) – with a very few exceptions.

    People with something to say at least have a platform to promote their views – if only to a pretty restricted audience – at least it’s an audience beyond which they would otherwise have. The pulling together of the best of the Scottish blogs would seem to create a powerful information source but is this the best way forward on the internet? I don’t know but would be interested in what others think.

  2. douglas clark says:

    Interesting article,

    The difficulty most bloggers will have, if newspapers fail, is almost certainly going to be primary content. For every genuine ‘citizen journalist’ like James Doleman there are many m0re that are no more than commentators on the news of the day. In other words they are not making news, they are reacting to it. In many ways I prefer the blogging commentariat to it’s print cousin the opinion pieces, but that’s a matter of taste.

    Until there is a way to monetise political blogging – to the extent that it can actually employ investigative journalists – we could be about to lose at least one, semi-arthritic, check on our political class.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Thanks Doug, you make a good point – its less of a one or other – and in fact the cost of providing genuine news is underestimated. Having said that there are some pretty big news outlets out there who were wining and dining with Stephen Purcell and investigating nothing. If Coulson tells us anything it is that the political class and the media class are too cosy. Hardly news I know but its stark now and the exposure of Wikileaks offers a different world.

  3. Vronsky says:

    I shop daily at the local supermarket and begin with a walk around the newsstand – I never buy a newspaper, just read the headlines. I imagine that what I am doing is taking the temperature of today’s attack on the SNP. I suspect that that is the level of press impact on public opinion – just that brief, almost subliminal, impression from above-the-fold headlines. I’ve mused on the idea of creating a dummy newspaper, one that consists only of a front page blaring some anti-unionist headline. The inner pages can be slabs of lorem ipsum or whatever, doesn’t matter, you don’t need anyone to buy it . But it is placed on every supermarket newstand so that everyone sees that front page.

  4. Tocasaid says:

    The Scotsman havering?

    Tell me it isn’t true….

    On a serious note, I wonder how much local or ‘tribal’ (thinking fitba here) interests keeps some of these papers afloat. If you’re a Scots fitba fan, reading the Guardian aint an option. If you don’t support the Ugly Sisters of Glasgow, then you need another paper – Scotsman, P&J whatever.

    It will be interesting to see how tribal the blogging world becomes in years to come. Will we only read what we agree with? This hasn’t been the case with local newspapers. I’m thinking especially of Brian Wilson’s ‘radical’ West Highland Free Press here or ‘Pravda’ to some locals. Despite over the top pro-Labour coverage and even going so far as to change from opposing the Skye Bridge tolls to opposing the protesters, virtually overnight on the election of a Labour government that maintained the Tory tolls… the locals continued to vote a mixture of Lib Dem, SNP and independents at all opportunities.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      This is a real danger – that we just end up in narrower and narrower pools of thought – confirming our exisitng beliefs – calling it ‘community’ or ‘interaction’ when it is neither. A real problem and issue.

      Keep changing the feeds.

  5. burdzeyeview says:

    Great article, Mike, as usual!
    The problem with wishing and welcoming the demise of the Scottish press is as you suggest, what fills the gap? Blogging can only be part of a future platform of content and few have yet thought out how to make the leap from printed news and comment into online versions that can be zapped into a whole range of SM platforms. What is promising is that folk are thinking about that and how to achieve it.
    As a new blogger on the block, a few observations. I deliberately have tried not to be a tribal or partisan blogger. I don’t think you need to scratch the surface too hard to uncover my own personal political sentiments but as a commentator, I’m much more interested in the culture of politics generally in Scotland and also in dissecting policy. This latter bit is hard – blogging is a hobby, finding the time to read up on, analyse and explain policy is difficult. I can think of where there are lots of interesting policy and political stories but getting the time to do the digging and background work to construct an article like this is the block. I’d be keen to think about teaming up in a collegiate approach to doing some of this work, in a bi partisan way, especially working with some freelance journos who are making good use of the internet.
    Also, Scotland is small, too small probably to support profit making blogging. The posts that get the most readership have a UK angle that attracts UK wide readership. And there is a risk that we end up with a hierarchical system of top bloggers based on hits which actually threatens diversity and impact. A community approach to supporting and promoting the wide diversity of blogs in Scotland would be a good way of doing this but how? A Wikio approach might be quite good, with a more egalatarian way of ranking and listing?
    Anyhow, definitely up for more chat on the transition from print to online which we are undoubtedly in, and how we can use that to ensure scrutiny – across the political divide – and diversity.

  6. Very interesting Mike. Lately, I’ve been thinking about this problem too. I suspect the problem for blogs is finding readers in the first place and then keeping them.

    Part of the solution may be eye-catching content spread across, and picked up by, different media. It is almost impossible to get noticed otherwise. It is, I suspect, a question of ‘approach’, packaging and a quick turnaround in content that puts you in front of the mainstream media. Of them, ‘approach’ and packaging are probably the most fruitful – and viable – routes is one in going to be noticed.

    I’ve got some ideas for Bella. I’ll bring them to the discussion.

  7. Twilight typing. I should buy a new lightbulb.

  8. Doug Daniel says:

    Douglas Clark’s point about bloggers being more like commentators and thus requiring a primary news source to comment on is a good one (as is his name), although it is based on the presumption that newspapers are the media format from which bloggers get these stories. One of the problems for the printed press is that 24 hour news channels have made it harder for newspapers to break stories. By the time something is printed in the papers, we’ve already had a couple of evening news programmes as well as 24 hour news channels from which to get the story. Therefore, all the papers can really offer is their version of the story, which essentially is what bloggers are doing.

    Someone (either Monbiot, Nick Davies or Chomsky) said recently(ish) that this phenomenon had led newspapers to depend on commentary and features – they can’t break the news any more, so they depend upon the readership liking the style of their commentators and feature-writers. These are things that can easily be replaced by the blogosphere – after all, most blogs are either someone who comments on the news, or someone who writes about some specific element of lifestyles like technology or film reviews. This is probably also why celebrities have become so essential to the newspapers.

    Without newspapers, I can think of only one big news story that might not have broken, and that’s the MPs expenses story. But then, this is exactly the sort of thing we would now expect to appear on WikiLeaks. With the exception of the Guardian, the newspapers are all adhering to the D-Notice over WikiLeaks, so the very presence of these newspapers merely acts as another filter to what we’re seeing. Without newspapers, we’d have to rely on bloggers, who picked up on the more interesting leaks.

    I can think of only one printed publication that gives me genuine news, and that’s Private Eye. Would the demise of the newspapers lead to the death of Private Eye? Nope – although they would have to find a new section to replace the Street Of Shame pages!

  9. Ray Bell says:

    I believe that the so called “digital revolution” cuts both ways. It is right to say that the photocopier brought down the USSR (along with the fax machine), but it is also possible to point to the frequent use of CCTV, phone tapping and other technologies by these regimes to oppress their people.

    The PRC is particularly skilled in the use of digital censorship and monitoring, and I believe the British and American states are too.

    On a different note, I believe that the decline in newspaper sales is down to multiple factors. I would factor not only the internet, but also a growing dislike of reading in some quarters, and the lack of variety amongst them. Many of them share the same owners, and go to the same agencies (Reuters, AP, APF) for their stories so they end up with the same stories, and agendas, with the main difference between the papers being one of reading level.

  10. Why viewers still use to read news papers when in this technological globe everything
    is available on web?

  11. Patrice says:

    I read this post fully about the difference
    of newest and earlier technologies, it’s amazing article.

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