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I'm an arts journalist & PR consultant living and working in Scotland. I've been a journalist for more than 25 years. I write a regular column for Scottish quality newspaper, The Herald. I deliver a PR service with an arty bent and work on a consultancy basis with arts organisations, including Scotland's leading creative industries festival, XpoNorth & broadcast support body, ScreenHI. I am currently co-writing a book about the celebrated Scots artist, George Wyllie, with his daughter Louise. Instrumental in making a celebration of his life's work happen in 2012. For more information, see www.georgewyllie.com When I'm not being a mum/working, I talk to my dog. He laps it up. Contact me on janpatience@me.com (All work © Jan Patience)

Thursday, 9 June 2011

Goodbye to all that? The Scottish Newspaper Business

Changed days in newspapers...

The Scottish newspaper industry is reeling this morning following the news yesterday that the Trinity Mirror, publishers of The Daily Record and Sunday Mail, are to shed around 90 journalists' jobs in Scotland.

It's grim news indeed for many friends and former colleagues on both titles. My former colleague (and boss) on both the Sunday Times and the Sunday Mail, Charles McGhee has written about it this morning on AllMediaScotland.com


As Charles says, Scotland is on the brink of an historic political shift towards independence and yet the newspaper industry is on its knees. Scotland's newspaper industry, he says, 'failed to act quickly enough as fast and flexible broadband came on stream' and this coupled with remote ownership, has combined to create the apocalyptic media landscape we see before us in Scotland today.

The Daily Record & Sunday Mail have traditionally been seen as the working man and woman's newspaper, although recently, The (Scottish) Sun is the paper you see in white van dashboards. 

Personally speaking, I think it's important that we have newspapers staffed by people working on the ground in Scotland reporting on our news, sport and entertainment scene.

We need trained journalists who can ask the questions which need to be asked. To probe, nosey and neb their way towards a free society. Who cares about Ryan Giggs? I want to know about the stuff that really matters.

I was lucky enough to get my coal-face experience in journalism at the Sunday Mail. It was the early 1990s. The last days of wine and roses though we didn't appreciate it at the time. I was in my early 20s and I was known as the 'wean' by all the, mainly male, reporters with whom I worked.

The best advice I ever got came from my favourite journalist of all time, Alex Scotland, who had trained at the Sunday Post and knew that journalism was all about people.

A seemingly mild-mannered man (except after a couple of glasses of white wine down the office pub), one day, I asked him to cast an eye over my copy. Can't remember now what it was about now, but it was bound to be a hard-luck story. 

I was always the the one sent out to hard-luck stories with the most ancient of photographers available. It was a good combo. Old harmless picman/young fresh-faced female reporter.

Alex lit a fag, leaned in towards me, pushed his glasses up his nose and said: "Get angry Jan! It'll only work if you get angry." I rewrote it, he checked it over and pronounced it fit for public consumption.

I think I'd have had to spend a year at journalism college to have learned that lesson, if at all.

Moving on to an age which we could not have envisaged back then, I had an interesting on-the-hoof chat with my former colleague at the Daily Record, Paul Sinclair, last week in which we discussed the vexed question of digital v actual journalism. 

Newspapers are struggling to find a place in the digital age. Content is free and Citizen Journalism is fast becoming the route via which the average person picks up news.

But here's the thing. As I pointed out to Paul, Facebook, Twitter and blogs allow me to cherry pick the best journalism out there for free. Many of my 'friends' and 'followers' are journalists, writers and artists, so there's some good stuff to divert my attention. Why then would I want to buy a paper? And I have a vested interest.

But, as we both agreed, we still need good journalists to produce the content that we all share. 
This morning, Paul was on BBC Scotland's Good Morning Scotland to talk about the Daily Record/Sunday Mail situation. Some of the points we discussed, not knowing about this announcement to come, were raised.

I know there are successful business models which can be created from digital content (and I actually hate that expression). I know I should be doing it for myself. And I am, to an extent. But like many journalists of my acquaintance, I'm much better with ideas, people, words and pictures than I am with spreadsheets and the business end of the media.

As Charles McGhee says at the end of his opinion piece: "Scotland has some seriously wealthy entrepreneurs who know how to run successful businesses. Is there a white knight(s) among them who is prepared to ride to the aid of Scotland’s beleaguered national newspaper industry and ensure the voice of the people is still heard?"

A good question...

For anyone nostalgic for the old days, when newspapers were black and white affairs, men were men (albeit sporting gringo taches and smoking like chimneys) who talked to real people in the pursuit of the truth check this out:


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