The media we deserve? Scots have a right to better

Several media-related items have caught my eye over the last couple of days – and not always for the right reasons.

The media has changed dramatically since I got my first job as a junior reporter on a local newspaper back in 1984.

How news is delivered, how readers access it and the 24-hour all-consuming news cycle available at the flick of a thumb is a world away from this cub reporter nervously clutching her notepad and hoping her Teeline shorthand was literally up to speed for a job on a weekly paper.

The long decline of Britain’s print media over the last two decades has been well documented. The necessarily slower process of producing a print publication means it’s impossible to provide something as immediate as that breaking news bar on 24-hour news or instant flashing updates on a phone or tablet.

But I have always thought there is still a place for newspapers, particularly local newspapers that are often talismanic in their own communities.

Like this arresting page in Brighton’s Argus on Saturday, skewering the lack of government response to the shambles that is Southern Railway.

Anyone unfortunate enough to have to travel on this godforsaken service (including my missus who pays an eyewatering £3k annually for the “privilege”) will know full well the frustration and inconvenience caused by months of ongoing disputes between the company and its staff.

The Argus is attempting to do what all good local newspapers should do – get the views of all sides in an issue of crucial importance to local people and businesses (the unreliable rail service is playing havoc with Brighton’s economy during its boom summer months) and then asked the politicians in charge what they are going to do about it.

The failure of the new Transport Secretary Chris Grayling or any of his junior ministers even to bother replying to the newspaper was lampooned mercilessly with a blank page and an excoriating editorial. That’s good local journalism.

As is this “spiked” piece from the Leicester Mercury earlier this year. Written by one of its award-winning columnists, the article savagely criticises the paper’s own management for their attitude to online content and their reliance on “clickbait” and irritating mobile ads to drive traffic to the paper’s website.

The piece didn’t make it into print because, while it’s not often that editors spike a columnist’s offering, most editors have a healthy sense of self-preservation and are unlikely to indulge such an attack on their bosses.

But kudos to Lee Marlow – now let go by the Mercury, of course – for having the balls to say what most folks working in newspapers actually think about how their products are being managed.

Which brings me to the sad case of Glasgow’s Evening Times, which has been – along with its sister papers, the Herald and Sunday Herald – decimated by job losses in editorial over the last decade and a half.

The lack of the most senior and experienced journalists is the only explanation I can find for the appalling absence of editorial judgment in this article (one among many I could point to).

I am not going to get into the whole story of how Rangers FC imploded in 2012 and were – depending on your affiliation – liquidated, relegated, demoted, re-born, whatever.

Instead I want to focus on the insulting, disgraceful and blatantly untrue statement that, minus a Rangers in Scotland’s top flight of football, the game itself was “phoney” – that is, bogus and therefore any titles and cups won were without merit.

That sort of cheerleading and biased content (complete with missing apostrophe on “let’s”) can be found on a thousand fan blogs, messageboards and fanzines – where it belongs.

Not in a newspaper that purports to have a shred of credibility.

Sports pages have always been partisan, blowing the trumpets of individuals and teams within their circulation area. The old joke about the Scottish football writers following our beleagured national team when they actually won the odd game or two was that they were “fans with typewriters”, something that could fairly be levelled at England’s newspapers these days.

But the old school journos were never afraid to dish out criticism where it was warranted and still manage to maintain friendly and positive working relationships with players and managers.

No one would have been likely to stand accused of being no better than a fanzine writer.

Away from Scotland’s print media, the lack of credibility and complete absence of impartiality stretches to BBC Scotland’s sports department.

Why else would this nonsense have appeared on its website after Joey Barton – a footballer more famous for what he does off the pitch – made his Scottish league debut for Rangers on Saturday? No wonder there was no byline to reveal which writer had to humiliate him or herself creating such bilge.

And, of course, it was Sportsound, BBC Scotland’s flagship sports programme, that once hosted the most infamous verbal punch-up ever between two of its own journalists on which one was the biggest Rangers fan. Laughable as that clip is, it’s not even vaguely funny.

There has been much talk in Scotland of a “Scottish Six” – a BBC Scotland-produced and presented Six O’Clock News that will better reflect the “national” news as it relates to Scotland. 

The ability to hold those in power to account is the most essential part of journalism. Local newspapers should reflect every part of their community. The BBC has a duty to be impartial and to represent all licence-fee payers.

The Argus demonstrated its side of the bargain on Saturday. What price anyone at the Evening Times or BBC Scotland’s sports department doing the same any time soon?

PS I have huge sympathy for everyone still working in newspapers, particularly my old colleagues at several Scottish publications. It’s a bloody hard job and often thankless, too. But the sort of content I’ve highlighted here is insulting not only to readers but also to those who commission it and those who write it. Just as well my days in newspapers are done, though… #unemployable

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s