Media Wars


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.


“It is right that newspapers have strong editorial views, but it is not healthy when they all have the same editorial views” – Iain Macwhirter

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.



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  1. David says:

    >> Next week Bella launches for the first time with a full-time staff member (me!)


    1. Iain Hill says:

      May you soon grow more staff. I agree with all you write. I am afraid my reaction to Jack’s column is to skim through it to identify the subject, and then if I feel I must read it, to plough in with a heavy heart. This kind of patronising, de haut en bas journalism should have been consigned to chip wrappings aeons ago.

  2. tartanfever says:

    This reminds me of a dreadful segment on Roger Bolton’s ‘Feedback’ programme on Radio4. Over the last few months he’s tried and failed miserably to get to grips with the independence debate.

    In an audience participation piece, he asked two radio listeners to change their habits for a week. A lady who listened to the nationally broadcast ‘Today’ programme on Radio4 was asked to listen to ‘Good Morning Scotland’ on Radio Scotland for a week. A man was asked to do the opposite.

    At the end of the week, both participants were asked what they made of their week long experiment. The lady (an English accent, but whether she lived in Scotland or not I couldn’t say) came out with her main gripe.

    ‘The news is too local, it’s all about Scotland.’

    That for me has always summed up neatly so many aspects of south of the border based enquiry into the referendum.

  3. “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.”

    I’ve been thinking about this recently, the post-Yes viability of the top pro-indy websites, and I agree. The job’s not finished with a Yes vote, and I dare say folk like me will be eternally grateful for the role sites like Bella and Wings have played in disseminating the media spin and giving people an outlet not afforded to them in the mainstream media. There will be a lot of residual goodwill.

    We certainly need you guys to survive, because the No Borders puff-pieces this week proved once again that the MSM is not fit for purpose. I can’t believe how quick and easy it was to unravel that sham of a campaign, and yet somehow our intrepid MSM reporters were bamboozled. It’s just incredible that nobody noticed the company was set up the day before it registered as a permitted participant, or that Flowers of Union are the only “band” in the history of music to set themselves up as a company 6 months before anyone’s even heard of them…

  4. scot2go2 says:

    From your opening comments this article is first class…. the white heather club image that satisfies the bbc’s remit of Scotland seems to be so widely reflected by a group referred to as ” journalists “…. when they should have been asking questions… digging…. embarrassing those who have let Scotland down… they were afraid obviously to blight their career prospects with the Peoples Friend….

  5. If the Guardian is the best newspaper in Britain, then no wonder they are in trouble.

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Which do you think is?

      1. andygm1 says:

        Good point, well made!

      2. Iain Hill says:

        Alas, the Guardian, best of a bad lot!

      3. Alas I find this impossible to answer. As a former reader, 40 years, I find it’s main content decent. When it comes to Scottish coverage it feels like it is lost somewhere in the imperial past.

  6. Excellent essay, Mike.

    Any chance I might meet you to discuss your latest enterprise? You actually know me, as I do your family.
    How do I contact you direct? (My website: grousebeater.wordpress)

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      Hi – that would be great. Contact details here:

  7. bongobrian1 says:

    Quote; “We’re building resilient bases for being around for the long-haul.”

    That is the most pleasing thing to hear. Whatever happens in the referendum, this whole process (along with the Smartphone/Internet technology catalyst) has revolutionised the media in Scotland.

    I don’t see the ‘new media’ ever going away now. It is spontaneous and by far, it is open to the greatest of scrutiny. What I mean by that, is demonstrated by the BBC closing down its’ political blogs to comment. This move by the BBC was/is widely regarded (whether rightly or wrongly) as a move to minimise or even prevent real time criticism of their output. That gives independent on-line journalism an honesty, that is not so easily achievable; or possibly even wanted by the traditional print/TV media.

  8. Tocasaid says:

    Good piece. The indy-ref has brought the inadequacies of our media into focus like never before.

    Today’s Sunday Herald has shone some light into the gloom while the Scotsman continues to plummet.

    Linked your story in my own piece.

  9. James Dow Melb, Aust says:

    James Dow A voice from the Great Scottish Diaspora. Scotland’s Empire.

    If the modern day Scots still had the values and courage of their ancestors, BBC PQ would already have
    been sacked and it’s inhabitants slaughtered.

    The modern Scot has little to cheer
    Comatose, tranquilised, with football and beer
    . James Dow

  10. manandboy says:


    Like the new airliner with cracks on the wings.
    Or like the high speed train with the faulty tilting mechanism

    I really dislike bursting someone’s balloon, but …

    Q. Can the Sunday Herald be a ‘Nationalist’ Paper on the front pages
    while at the same time be a Unionist paper on the football pages.

    Can the Sunday Herald say on the front pages – The Emperor has no clothes,
    While on the football pages say, in unison with every other paper in Scotland – The Emperor’s new clothes!

    (For those who have been away on business or holidays for the past two years – The Unionist club, RFC(IL) went into Liquidation in 2012. A new club was formed thereafter.
    No mainstream media outlet in Scotland will say in public that that is the case.)

    “The media should not speak with one voice”
    (Editorial. Page 3. Para.T))

  11. Andy Oliver says:

    I don’t want to hijack an excellent discussion about the deficiencies of the mainstream Scottish media, but seeking to criticise The Sunday Herald for coverage of a football club is missing the point a bit. As you know, though you may disagree, Rangers is the same club, though the company who own it has changed. That’s the reason they got a licence even though they were placed in the bottom tier as punishment for liquidation. If you believe it’s the same club you can keep hating them as before, if you believe it to be a different club, why would you hate them? It would be perverse to hate what you consider to be a new club because other folk think it’s the same club.

    Bears for Indy

    1. Jim says:

      Will you two shut up about that subject? Bhoys for Indy and Bears for Indy…and New Rangers are keech …right linesman?

  12. Magicpants says:

    Don’t be under any illusions about the Guardian, heard today (on RT) that they recently ran an article suggesting that RT be BANNED from uk tv.

  13. Alex Buchan says:

    I just read this fascinating insight into the mentality of those at the heart of Better Together. It made me think of Lorraine Fannin’s post about the aftermath of the referendum. It’s interesting that this has come out on Al Jazeera. If Massie knows this then so do the rest of Scotland’s political journalists, yet none will ever honestly discuss this highly problematic altitude, nor what it says about their concern for Scotland. This attitude more than anything tells us why Better Together are alienating large swathes of voters, but it also tells us that they are not the feckless idiots some make them out to be. This information needs to be more well known. Which brings me to a question. If you are now working full time Mike can we expect to see more article by you in the press more widely?

    Scottish political blogger Alex Massie tells Al Jazeera that, while Better Together’s message may be robust, the pro-union camp see their objective as defeating pro-independence forces in September’s poll.

    “The No campaign say they’re not worried about criticism [of their campaign strategy],” says Massie, who writes a regular blog for The Spectator.

    “They don’t see the point of running a cheery populist campaign that loses. They would rather win with a negative campaign than lose with a more positive uplifting message. They have identified the voters they need to speak to, the voters they need to attract – and they don’t really care about what anyone outside the campaign office thinks.”

    1. bellacaledonia says:

      It’s a good question Alex. I’d hope so. As I’ve said before the distinction between old and new media is not as black and white as is made out. I’ll be able to go to events/press conferences now, for instance. I still occasionally get space in the Guardian (more often than the Scottish press).

  14. Abulhaq says:

    Censorship……the mark of lively democracy is the lack of it. There is a just a hint of the authoritarian Stalinist in the Scots psyche, unionist or nationalist. Not every “alternative” opinion is the work of dangerous revisionist trolls. This country needs a free flow of ideas not buttoned up convention or its alter ego handmaid, doctrinaire PC’ism.

  15. florian albert says:

    Mike Small is critical of Ian Jack’s comments on the new media. However, in his article, Ian Jack only mentioned the new media in passing. He was writing about the past, present and possible future of newspapers in Scotland.
    Mike Small is confident of the future of the new media. Looking on as an outsider, I am not so sure. There are clear parallels with the growth of football fanzines in the 1980s – though with much less humour. Few of these survive.
    Bella Caledonia is introducing three new columnists. This is just what Scottish journalism does not need. Scottish journalism already has, to quote Kenneth Roy, more columns than the Roman Empire.
    I agree with Mike Small on the pressing need in Scottish journalism for somebody, in old or new media, to call those in power to account.
    There is little sign that anybody in the new media has the resources to achieve this. In much of the new media, there is little sign that anyone has the inclination.

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