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Showing posts with label journalism in Scotland. Show all posts
Showing posts with label journalism in Scotland. Show all posts

Saturday, 6 August 2011

The future of journalism and the impact of new media - Scotland and UK

(A cautionary note - I am not a journalist, I have never worked for any media organisation in any capacity, and I have no insider knowledge of the operation of newspapers, print or television media. All of what I have to say represents the perceptions of a consumer of media channels, as viewer and reader and occasional contributor to letters pages and online comment. My views also reflect some limited experience of dealing directly with them in industry.)

Figures recently released by ABC reveal what must be alarming statistics for the owners and employers of our national newspapers - Every national loses print sales in March - and doubtless there will be much agonising over the factors that have contributed to this decline.

I have been reading UK national and Scottish newspapers for almost 70 years now - I came from a generation that regarded newspapers as an indispensable part of life, and lest anyone think this was a middle class or income related value, let me say that I was brought up in grinding poverty in an east end Glasgow tenement by a widowed mother on a tiny income (when she had one at all) who was dependent on state benefit in the pre-welfare state era. Despite this, we had one daily and one evening paper every day for six days, and at least three Sunday newspapers. We would almost have rather not eaten than be deprived of newspapers, and we had radio, which meant the BBC, and equally vital part of our life - free libraries and the cheap, fleapit cinemas.

Were we exceptional? No - we were typical, in our reading, radio and cinema-going habits, of at least a large minority of the working class, and perhaps even a majority.

By and large, I have maintained most of this media consumption: I am a cineaste, but the cinema going went to the wall a long time ago - after my courting days - to be replaced by television and much later by the video cassette, then the DVD and the computer.

Newspapers matter fundamentally to me, and television matters too, as a window on the world, in the way that cinema newsreels and documentaries mattered in the past.

But I have also become a creature of the electronic age that I have lived to see. I was going to say that it is something that was unimaginable to someone of my generation, but as a science fiction buff from the age of six or thereabouts, I did imagine it, and couldn’t wait for it to materialise. It has fulfilled my wildest dreams, but it also has delivered the potential to fulfil my worst nightmares.

One of those nightmares is the destruction of print journalism - of newspapers and magazines and periodicals devoted to current affairs and the exploration of ideas.

I have already written a fair amount about newspapers and journalism in my blog, but it was mainly in a political context - Journalism and standards - Moridura blog -but I want to revisit some of my core concerns, so bear with me if I am repeating themes and ideas …

CIRCULATION DECLINE

The concern of over circulation decline must have resulted in much analysis and soul-searching among newspaper proprietors and journalists over the causes of the decline, ranging from the hard bottom-line, commercial analysis to more high-minded introspection. The News International/News Corp earthquake has left many reeling at the scale and speed of the destruction of reputations and livelihoods, but may also have caused much self-delusion and denial about the causes, and where the future may lie.

The ABC March 2011 figures tell a bleak story, ranging from -27.51% to -0.71%. The average circulation decline percentage change, year on year are as follow.

(N.B. Check ABC source figures for any reuse, and for additional notes and qualifications: these are my abstracts, and may contain errors.)

15 National dailies - decline league table

Daily Star                     699,216  -15.45%

The Times                   446,109  -11.21%

Racing Post                    61,588   -9.87%

The Herald                    50,621   -8.92%

The Daily Telegraph   626,416  -8.78%

The Scotsman                41,806  -8.16%

The Guardian              261,116   -7.75%

Daily Mirror             1,155,895   -7.31%

Daily Express             620,616   -7.13%

The Sun                   2,817,857   -6.24%

Daily Record              312,655   -6.21%

Financial Times         381,658   -4.89%

Daily Mail               2,039,731    -2.05%

The Independent     181,934     -1.20%

The i                          171,415  n/a - new newspaper

14 National Sundays - decline league table

Sunday Herald                    31,123  -27.51%

Daily Star Sunday            293,489  -14.14%

The Observer                   296,023  -10.70%

The People                        477,815   -10.21%

News of the World        2,664,363    -8.27%

Sunday Mail                      365,923    -8.29%

Sunday Mirror               1,063,096   -7.3%

The Sunday Times        1,031,727    -7.19%

Sunday Express                533,192   -6.46%

Sunday Post                       312,188   -7.38%

The Sunday Telegraph     481,941   -5.46%

Scotland on Sunday            56,466   -3.57%

The Mail on Sunday      1,888,040   -3.31%

Independent on Sunday   153,183   -0.71%

These figures shock and surprise me to some degree. The population of Scotland is around 5.2m, of which I reckon about a quarter are under 16, leaving an adult population somewhere over 4.1m. The population per household has dropped in recent year, so taking as a very rough guess two adults per household reading the same paper, and leaving out the number of readers under 16, this gives a potential readership of around 2m.

(My figures are crude: doubtless the newspapers themselves have detailed demographic analyses to fuel their well-founded panic.)

This means that on the last circulation figures, the two ‘quality’ Scottish dailies between them are reaching (i.e. each edition read by two people) 50,621 + 41,806 = 92,427 x 2 = 184,854 readers. That represents just over 1 in 22 of the adult population, with the Herald reaching about 1 in 40 and the Scotsman about 1 in 49.

This does rather lead me to the question - Why the **** do I bother about what these two newspapers say about Scottish politics?

Of course, one can argue that they are reaching the top 2.0/2.5% of the population - the movers and shakers - but what evidence is there for this? And if they are, what does it matter, since it’s the opinions and perceptions of the majority of the voters that determine elections, and will determine the referendum outcome?

The statistics for the Sunday Herald (31,123) and Scotland on Sunday (56,466) give no comfort either. In fact, rather than just courting Rupert Murdoch, Alex Salmond should have been offering Oor Wullie a new bucket, and trying to get an invite from the Broons to Glebe Street and the but-and-ben, since the Sunday Post has a circulation of 312,188, although it has a very much wider reach than just Scotland.

THE CAUSES OF CIRCULATION DECLINE

The reasons for this catastrophic decline in newspaper circulation has some obvious contributory causes - television, new media, social media, the computer, the smartphone - but why then does The Independent buck the trend by a single figure decline?

The Independent 181,934 -1.20%

The i 171,415 - a completely new newspaper and format

Independent on Sunday 153,183 -0.71%

Well, the answer may have some relevance for Scotland,  (it certainly has relevance for all national newspapers)but since both The Independent and The i behave as if Scotland doesn’t exist most of the time (although they are occasionally catalysed by negative or trivial stories) they don’t appear to matter too much to Scottish politics.

But I think that for The Herald and The Scotsman, there is another significant contributory reason - lazy, derivative, cut-and-paste, CTRL-C journalism.

When did either of these newspapers last break a significant story that was not already in the public domain and had legs because of the work of better journalists?

Why has there been no coverage worth a light of what Glasgow City Council has done to the people and small businesses of Dalmarnock in the name of urban regeneration and the Commonwealth Games?

Why do the journalists of both papers think that hanging around the law courts, reading press releases and spin documents from political parties and municipal councils constitutes real journalism?

The way both papers treated the Souter knighthood story is utterly typical. They reacted to Cathy Jamieson’s story - and presumably a Scottish Labour press release - and regurgitated the blindingly obvious. but failed to ask any of the real questions that should be asked.

I have asked some of the relevant questions, and I have more, which the SNP - my party - may or may not welcome. Why can’t journalists ask them - or perhaps why won’t they ask them?

Would they call the whole rotten honours system and the very nature of our United Kingdom’s power structure and patronage into question?

As Private Eye might say - I think we should be told

Friday, 17 June 2011

Gerry Braiden and the Herald

Gerry Braiden asks me to acknowledge his contribution to the exposure of the abuse of ALEOs by Glasgow City Council, and the regular coverage he has given to the minority SNP group on GCC.

I am happy to do both, and freely acknowledge his undoubted contribution to revealing the full extent of this patronage system, which yielded significant and in my view grossly disproportionate rewards to individuals chosen by GCC, and to the very recent ending of this pernicious practice - a blot on Scotland’s democracy.

I also accept, and am grateful for the regular platform he offered – and offers - to SNP councillors as a minority group on GCC, who otherwise might have had found difficulty in securing a media platform for their views.

If my focus on egregious abuse of the rights of the Dalmarnock families and businesses, and the appalling treatment of the disabled users and their carers over the Accord Centre closure, in the name of progress and the Commonwealth Games, have on occasion deflected me fully from recognising the above aspects of Gerry Braiden’s wider contribution as a journalist, I regret the omissions and happily take this opportunity to make amends.

In an extended private email correspondence with Gerry Braiden over the last day, a number of important issues about the relationship of the users of alternative media and professional journalists have been raised – a relationship that is increasingly significant to our democracy, and one that is increasingly blurred and misunderstood, occasionally by myself.

I intend to explore these issues in a general context later, without any breach of confidentiality: our correspondence has simply acted as a prompt to ideas and views that I have held for sometime.

Monday, 14 March 2011

The Sunday Post and Lorraine Davidson

The Sunday Post yesterday carried a piece on page 12, encouragingly headlined ‘The SNP are still smiling and ready for the battle to begin’.  This temporarily brought a smile to my face, especially in the light of the positive, objective reporting elsewhere in the paper. That is, until I read the byline for the report, which was clearly meant to be news and not an opinion piece.

It was written by Lorraine Davidson, former spin doctor to Jack McConnell, biographer of the same Labour Leader and former First Minister entitled ‘Lucky Jack’, and who might reasonably described as having very strong past and current links to the Labour Party in Scotland.

But Lorraine has returned to her former profession of journalist, and I am sure would like to be seen as an objective knowledgeable political commentator on Scottish politics, free from bias, and not still in the grip of old loyalties.

But perhaps you can judge for yourself whether she has approached this admirable ideal, from her first seven paragraphs in an article which, I repeat, was presented as objective political comment.

Sunday Post page 12, March 13th 2011

The SNP faithful gathered in Glasgow this weekend for their final conference before facing the electorate.

Alex Salmond’s party are behind in the polls, they’ve broken many of their promises and at the end of a term in government they’ve made little progress towards convincing voters they’d be better off in an independent Scotland.

If that sounds like a disastrous set of circumstances in which to go into an election, it appears nobody has told Mr. Salmond and his followers.

If nothing else, the nationalists are up for the fight ahead.

The economic circumstances have dictated this election can’t be won through bribery.

The SNP have tried to use the downturn to craft a message which gives the impression they are on the side of hard-up voters.

From freezing council tax bills to promising to continue free higher education, the SNP want voters to believe the party is on their side.

The above sounds to me like the kind of  piece that could have been written by a Labour spin doctor, or even Andy Kerr, which I’m sure is not the kind of impression an objective political journalist, or even the Editor of The Sunday Post wants to create.

But I am absolutely certain that it wasn’t written by either of them - not even they would have been so unsubtle.

No, this is Lorraine’s own work, and she must look on it and reflect, especially on the high standards set by some other Scottish journalists, and perhaps draw some valuable lessons from their work.