News this week that Newsnet Scotland had broken through the 100,000 mark attracting an astonishing 120,000 unique visitors to the site which brings to mind the often heralded but little analysed notion of a new emergent alternative Scottish media. The site, which now employs two freelance journalists, is going from strength to strength. Wings Over Scotland also broke the 100,000 mark for unique visitors with 100,034 (Sept 2013) whilst Bella broke through this mark in January with 114, 311. We once (in 2011) doubled that number with 206,367 unique visitors in one month, but that was almost wholly down to an Iceland story that went viral-bonkers.

What this means is that – taken collectively – and including other big players like National Collective – we now have pro-indy media outlets being read by upwards of half a million people each month.

media-biasWriting in the New Statesman Peter Wilby points out that the Guardian actually now has an average daily print circulation of under 200,00. Editor Alan Rusbridger told the New Yorker he ‘can imagine’ printing only on certain days. Apparently they only need to sell 50,000 a day for a print edition to stay viable.

Of course web traffic is only one indicator of value. Jeffrey Archer sold lots of books. Some sites have huge traffic but they are little more than echo-chambers reinforcing the views of a relatively small group of people. If the political task for Yes is to convince the undecideds, this probably has little worth. You don’t need to motivate your core vote in this situation. That’s not the task.

It’s a week that has also seen sections of the tabloid press exposed as little more than vehicles for hate and another publisher, Johnston Press, trying to re-negotiate it’s massive debt. The Guardian’s Roy Greendsalde commented: “Its chief executive, Ashley Highfield, has hired an investment bank, Rothschild, to co-ordinate talks with creditors that include Barclays and the Royal Bank of Scotland.” More here.

The issue of changing media is tied up with growing consciousness about ownership and underlying message. The Mail’s PR car-crash this past week had the effect of exposing their pro-Nazi history and joined the dots for millions as Mehdi Hasan’s wonderfully articulate denunciation (‘the “immigrant-bashing, woman-hating, Muslim-smearing, NHS-undermining, gay-baiting Daily Mail”) went viral.

Last year Panaroma explored how Desmond’s Express and others of the far-right press avoids paying a pays a penny of tax in the UK. See here. For people obsessed with ‘freeloaders’ and a ‘something for nothing culture’ that’s compelling.

This new consciousness about media power is allowing people to make connections about the power nexus and the British establishment. One person tweeted saying: “I noticed in FT this morning that Paul Dacre had issued one of his statements this week from his 15000 acre estate near Ullapool.”

Of course the Daily Mail story could have a negative effect on the Yes campaign, shoring up sympathy support for Miliband and neatly masking his largely empty political narrative. He remains policy-lite but this is a good story for him, sticking up for his dad.

But this issue of who controls information is deeply connected with who has power in our society and what, if anything, people think about how we are governed, and who we actually are.

Derek Bateman – a former BBC Scotland news journalist who has been unleashed into the blogosphere with a redundancy package and an attitude touches on this issue recently:

There is no escaping the fact that next September we are confronting a straight choice and we are obliged to decide for one or the other. Either it’s Yes, so you express your national belief in the internationally accepted way by voting for statehood. Or its No, in which case you vote for Scotland remaining as a subset of a larger nation which retains all of the powers over you, leaving Scotland in a subservient position.

Where the argument gets mixed up is when we consider the implication of that No vote. It means, undeniably I think, that you prefer Britain to be the country in control of your affairs. Therefore you’re preference is for Britain rather than Scotland…not in place of Scotland but in overarching authority over Scotland.

The uncomfortable aspect is in what that means about your belief in your country. If you actively don’t think you’re country should have its nationhood returned then it seems to me you have placed a limit on your belief in, and commitment to, Scotland. That is, you’re saying: I love Scotland and I’m a committed Scot up to the point where you ask me to choose and then I opt for Britain.

Black_Dwarf_(1968_newspaper)This has a compelling truth and this realisation that a No vote is essentially a disavowal will be a powerful motivator for people. No is an abdication of – not just hope – but of agency.

It’s a message that’s powerfully told in the Fear Factor (“Scared at the prospect of running your own country? Terrified about what the future holds? Haunted by nightmarish visions of deep uncertainty?”) by Jack Foster and Christopher Silver which has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people. Just as the pageant of the Olympics was a powerful attempt to salvage British identity as a progressive idea, what we might be watching is not the shift from old to new media, but the shift from text to film, from word to image  and audio.

Michael Greenwell’s Indy Podcast is modest in numbers but with more of a commitment to listen it’s an interesting innovation. He says of it: “In general we get around 1000  listeners an episode. I like to describe it as two sell out nights at the Citizen’s theatre for each episode.”

What’s interesting about the podcast is not it’s high impact but that it represents the starting point of innovation. If you think of only a couple of years ago when the Scottish blogging scene was dominated by SNPTactical Voting – you can see how the indy debate has led to (and fed) an explosion of new platforms.

As we seek an Open Scotland – the changing landscape of media and media use matters. New media forms have always played a role in change movements. From the Penny Press in mid 19thC America – to the radical zines of counter culture in the 1960s (like the Black Dwarf, itself a reference to a radical paper of 1817) this has always been a crucial element to gaining and defending power.

It’s well documented how the photocopier contributed to the downfall of the Soviet Union. During the Yugoslav Wars in the 1990s, B92 was one of the very few sources for news not controlled by Milošević regime – it became an exemplar of a free media – a touchstone for a younger generation. Radio and now online radio are difficult to shut down. Each shifting tide of social change drives and is driven by new forms. The disintegration of the British state is no different, and the wider reactionary forces that Rothermere, Murdoch, and Desmond represent will not be missed with their explicit agenda of bigotry and conservatism.

There’s no doubt that blogs and twitter streams can be fractious, unsustainable and amateur – and the mainstream press is not dying, it’s re-birthing. But the inadequacy and innate bias of our media looks likely to continue to feed a changing relationship between reader and ‘content producer’. We hope to bring you some big news this week about how Bella can continue to be part of this change movement with some significant new developments.