HOLD THE FRONT PAGE -the changing face of the Scottish press

pete wishartBy Pete Wishart MP 

Like most politicians in Scotland I have a ‘complicated’ relationship with my press colleagues. I’m always grateful for the coverage I receive but remain anxious about the power they have to make my life an absolute misery.

I remember being splashed across the front page of the Sun with the headline ‘What a Twit’ for one of my latest indiscretions on social media and the way the Daily Mail particularly likes to give ‘airtime’ to my particular views is always a ‘delight’. Like nearly every other politician of a nationalist persuasion I have been variously ‘hypocritical’, ‘a barefaced liar’, ‘accused’, ‘shamed’ and other adjectives too numerous to mention. The joys…..

Like most of the media elsewhere the Scottish media is in decline. Sales are precariously down, historic titles teeter on the edge of survival and the media’s influence diminished to a shadow of its almost omnipotent former self. Struggling to find a meaningful place on the new digital platforms Scottish titles wrestle with the new digital place they now find themselves in.

Add to that 24 hours broadcast news outlets means that ‘news’ is so often ‘olds’ for a press that has to be printed for the declining number of the next morning’s customers. In trying to find a space online ‘the press’ encounters stiff competition from the broadcasters, particularly the BBC, who simply crowd them out with their own extensive online presence. Only the biggest newspaper titles with the deepest pockets seem to have carved a meaningful place in the new online news terrain and very few of those are Scottish titles.

scottish_papersThe Scottish press therefore has to rely on even more insider ‘exclusives’, creative headlines and ‘scoops’ for its news profile and increasingly comment is king. This then comes up against the ‘democratisation’ of comment with the proliferation of social media. No longer is there the passive consumer, everyone now has access to comment and the opportunity to express an opinion and challenge comment they disagree with.

Traditional journalists working in this diminished environment try their hardest to promote a meaningful role for themselves. They come to the party, though, with a historic and cultural baggage that finds the new ‘engagement’ difficult and problematic. Unused to having their views challenged many traditional journalists retreat into a self affirming huddle hitting out dismissively at a more demanding and critical readership. Increasingly our press colleagues feel that they should not be challenged at all if we happen to disagree with their particular and loaded perspective.

But here in Scotland we have practically recreated a new environment for news and things have almost been revolutionised here. The referendum changed things dramatically and Scotland is possibly several steps ahead and further evolved than most other nations in embracing new media. Identifying that almost none of the traditional press supported Scottish independence the Yes campaign simply created its own.

This was done organically, and importantly online, and the sheer range of these new sites became one of the most interesting features of the referendum campaign. Those sites satisfied an increased desire for a different type of news and they offered a perspective simply unavailable in the traditional press, overwhelming hostile to the independence cause. It could be said that the traditional press gave birth to this new on line engagement by denying a large swathe of public opinion an editorial place in its structures.

alt mediaWhat we therefore have is an evolving, exciting, almost anarchic space for comment with more people actively engaging in political debate than ever before. The traditional press now lives cheek by jowl with new media in full view of a online public with an almost insatiable appetite to be informed and engaged.

But a ‘press’ remains an absolute essential and I would go to the ditch to protect the right of a free press to print whatever it wants. The idea of a free press is the very cornerstone of democracy but it is also right that the press is challenged. Most of the traditional press is owned by powerful individuals or institutions with a particular world view which they believe is in need of promoting. Journalists and broadcasters are also increasingly ‘commentators’ actively involved in our political debate promoting their own particular strong personal views that just cry out to be examined. They cannot expect to be exempt from challenge when they have such a privileged position in the debate about our nation.

The traditional press in Scotland will continue to decline unless it can face up to the new realities of the place it finds itself in. It can wish things were the way they used to be, it can even wish the Scottish consumer was a bit more grateful and satisfied with what it has to offer. But we will not be going back to the old days and the Scottish press has to get used to that fact.

 

Pete Wishart is the SNP MP for Perth and North Perthshire.
This article is reproduced with his kind permission.
You can read more from Pete over at his blog – https://petewishart.wordpress.com

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12 thoughts on “HOLD THE FRONT PAGE -the changing face of the Scottish press

  1. Ken from iScot

    We try to reach out to those people who don’t access their news via social media.

    We try to reach out to those people who really don’t want to engage in politics as their experience of suffering aggressive TV debate just turns them off.

    The National has taken a polarised view – they are just talking to YES voters

    The unengaged/disinterested people have a vote – who will influence them apart from the longstanding Union press?

    We travel to as many venues as possible to reach out to people to try to gently encourage them into reading our diverse magazine where they *might* just *might* take an interest in Scotland and who knows – make the effort to learn more and possibly engage..

    Many of the current indy initiatives are just talking shops for people who are already committed to indy. Some grannie in Castlemilk doesn’t care about ‘policy initiatives’ – she just wants to know if her money can last till the end of the week. She has a vote.

    We never set out to create a magazine, we wanted to find an appropriate vehicle to reach out to folk that you guys will never reach. So do we need a new press? who knows, but we do need a new method of message delivery and a Scottish 6 or a new indy website won’t make much impact IMHO

    1. Kevin Taylor

      Nice, cheery, optimistic piece for everyone there, Ken. You obviously dislike the sound of ‘The Press is Doomed’.

      Or maybe the press isn’t doomed? We still have The National.
      “The National has taken a polarised view – they are just talking to YES voters”.. Oh. Right. How dare they just talk to YES voters?! They ought to be more measured, less partisan, like the rest of the 99% of publications. What a nerve, eh? Besides, headline junkies don’t really matter in these unengaged/disinterested times, do they?

      Gentle encouragement: you make it sound like we’re all sitting-back with slippers on, glass of red wine in hand, broadminded, relaxing in the drawing-room with Andrew Neil and Paul Dacre. I’m thinking, didn’t general Custer once gently encourage some indigenous fowk?
      I despair, they’re hammering us from all sides and we’re restricted to gently encouraging.

      “Many of the current indy initiatives are just talking shops for people who are already committed to indy”.. That is truly disrespectful and undermines the great work of these people when we have almost nothing else against the full might of Unionist publications. I, and many other messengers, look forward to the encouragement we gain from what they produce, we pass-on to friends and family the information provided by them – they are the ONLY sources of accurate information we can trust.

      “Some grannie* in Castlemilk doesn’t care about ‘policy initiatives’ – she just wants to know if her money can last till the end of the week”.. Aye, like she can then just pull £60-a-year out of her arse to subscribe to iScot?
      *I would’ve used ‘granny’

      Sure, your approach is valid, but you’ve a bit of a cheek denouncing all other efforts to change opinion when we had bugger-all just a couple of years ago. These other voices are producing accurate facts and credible opinion, publishing on a daily-basis with little more than passion to inspire grannies from Castlemilk. Word-of-mouth, Twitter, Facebook – sometimes this is all grannies have.

      “we wanted to find an appropriate vehicle to reach out to folk that you guys will never reach”… Hark at him!
      A new method of delivery is a fantastic idea, but I can see no clear and obvious evidence of great-strides since Sept ’14 as a result of iScot. And, at a time when we’re all attempting to collaborate and connect for the greater-good and, yes, find other approaches for getting our message out there, your tone really does nothing to further that inclusiveness.

      You sound like you’re trying to change the world, Ken, as opposed to all those other ‘samey’ folk who are just faffing-around with word processors.

      IMHO…

      1. Ken from iScot

        I’m confused why you have taken this personally Derek and resorted to snide remarks.

        If constructive criticism is something you can’t handle you may wish to ask yourself why.

        IMHO…

  2. eddie

    There is no such thing as a free press in old media. They’re either beholden to sociopathic monsters like murdoch or sociopathic monsters like the stock market. Maybe the online news sources that publish for voluntary contributions might be considered free. But even they have bills to pay.

  3. Jack Collatin

    I have been out of the country for a few days (a Dublin Wedding, my nephew, my hands still aquiver as I clack this dueto an excess of the local mead, and too many hours of the ‘craic’.)
    I access our social media to catch up with news back home.
    After 50 years of taking the Herald, I stopped subscribing since it has now been reduced to a pointless propaganda pamphlet for Mother England, and the Union.
    There is no doubt that Scotland will return to Self Determination, a reality precipitated by the farcical Brexit Referendum result.
    Dugdale, Rennie, and Davidson, are glorified councillors, and bench fillers at that, not up to the job of serious politics, who are given maximum, and quite ludicrous coverage by the Dead Tree Scrolls, particularly in my neck of the woods, by a US owned , and more cynically named than ever, Herald SCOTLAND, despite the hard facts, of which old hack scribers are perfectly aware.
    We have a pro Self Determination Holyrood Administration, there are 56 out of 59 MP’s representing the People of Scotland , but cynically sidelined, Down There, and Labour and Lib Dem parties in Scotland are on life support, while Scottish Tories dread the catastrophic impact of continuing austerity cuts imposed on Scotland by their Westminster handlers, and the Three Mexiteers, Johnson, Davis, and the sly wee Fox wait in the sidelines.
    Theresa May as Prime Minister?
    Doesn’t bear thinking about. What’s that you say? Is she really?
    It’s a nice game played slow.
    The Pro Self Determination movement, it may be argued, need do nothing at the moment, but sit and watch the Unionist Parties self combust over the next 12 months.
    Not long now
    Great and thoughtful piece, Mr Wishart.

  4. Jeanette McCrimmon

    On whatever medium we use to appeal to former NO voters. the message has to be what they will LOSE if Scotland remains in the UK.

    Political psychological studies show, most people respond in the way you want them to, with this type of message.

    The Granny from Castlemilk, mentioned above, is more likely to vote yes, if she’s told, by staying in the UK she”ll lose her free prescriptions or her Grandchildren have to pay university fees.

    If we believe the battle is between Unionism and Independence we have to make Ruth Davidson and Theresa May the face of unionism and show what they want to take away from Granny.

    As to the platform, that’s a more difficult problem. No point in preaching to the choir. Ads on public transport and in public spaces cost a lot of money. A job for the SNP and Greens?

  5. Graham

    “But a ‘press’ remains an absolute essential and I would go to the ditch to protect the right of a free press to print whatever it wants.”

    Really, Pete? Salmond in Nazi helmet? Salmond as Kim Jong Il? Lies, smears, character assassination, innuendo, deliberately misleading headlines etc, etc. A press that follows the agenda of its hard right billionaire proprietors.

    I don’t think democracy is served by the kind of press we have at present and those who say a “Free Press” is essential need to make the argument rather than just state it as a given.

    Oh, it’s to hold politicians to account, to expose wrongdoing in high places. Well, where are the great exposes? There are several damning books about the corruption of Westminster and the City of London. I don’t see much in the press about that. Even the Panama Papers have disappeared from view after causing a little inconvenience to Cameron and a few others, but things have settled back down now, thank goodness, and we can continue to hide our ill-gotten billions away from public view as if nothing had happened.

    We live in a UK with structurally embedded inequality, imho the root of many societal ills as it creates poverty, but the press don’t deal with that, because the billionaire owners aren’t going to be pleased if their journalists harp on about how the rent seekers feather their nests at the expense of everyone else.

    I’d almost rather have no press than what we have at present.

  6. Dan Huil

    I think the britnat press in Scotland know their time is almost up, hence the scorched-earth tactics they are employing to do Scotland down at all costs.

  7. Cadogan Enright

    Pete, you are unreasonably generous in your analysis to the overprivelidged uninformed propaganda agents that run the waning State and Corporate Media

    I really feel that some one prominent in the SNP needs to call out particularly egrarious articles several times a week

    We need the misrepresentation and propaganda to be a story in itself on an ongoing basis for those affected by it to become aware of it

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