Postcards
from Scotland

We asked a selection of SR
contributors for a memory
of an outstanding holiday in
Scotland – good or bad



Marian Pallister in Tobermory
George Chalmers in Ayr
Islay McLeod in Rockcliffe
Judith Jaafar in Carrick Castle
Barney MacFarlane on Arran



Bill Jamieson on Bute
Tessa Ransford in North Berwick
Michael Elcock on Harris
Ronnie Smith in Largs

Katie Grant on Mull
Thom Cross in Kirkcaldy
Morelle Smith in Glencoe
Bob Cant in Carnoustie

Robin Downie on Arran
Bruce Gardner in Glen Livet
Fiona MacDonald on Tiree
Walter Humes at home

Jill Stephenson at Loch Duich
Quintin Jardine in Elie
Iain Macmillan in Gleneagles
Douglas Marr on Skye
Andrew McFadyen in Kilmarnock

R D Kernohan on Arran
David Torrance on Iona
Catherine Czerkawska at Loch Ken
Chris Holligan in Elie

Rose Galt in Girvan
Alex Wood on Arran
Andrew Hook in Glasgow
Alasdair McKillop in St Andrews

Sheila Hetherington on Arran
Anthony Seaton on Ben Nevis
Paul Cockburn at Loch Ness
Jackie Kemp in a taxi
Angus Skinner on Skye

10.03.11
No. 377

SR Extra

The Great Delusion

As the many young people faced with poor prospects and unemployment see where our decline into plutocracy has led them, they must be thinking that there is a better way. I doubt if our political class or the complacent super-rich, inbred and inexperienced in the realities of life in contemporary Britain can see this. How long before we see a Facebook revolt here?

An essay for the weekend by Professor Anthony Seaton
Click here

Islay's daily pic

The butcher's shop
Errol, Perthshire

The Cafe

Andrew Hook, in his paean to 'The Killing' (SR, 8 March), writes re. cults: 'I always wonder what [people...waiting for the world to come to an end at the appointed hour] say to each other when the time has come and gone and nothing has happened.'
     Sociologists might point him in the direction of 'When Prophecy Fails' by Leon Festinger, Henry Riecken, and Stanley Schachter; while his former English [American] literature colleagues might point him to Alison Lurie's 'Imaginary Friends'.

Steve Tilley

Today's banner

Children playing, Monifieth, Angus

Photograph by
Islay McLeod

SR accepts no advertising or corporate backing. We depend entirely on the generosity of our individual supporters. Help SR to flourish by becoming a Friend. [click here]


Leading article

 

Whatever happened to the

newspaper as a nation

talking to itself?

 

Kenneth Roy

 

Traditional journalists' pub: only the journalists are missing
Photograph by Islay McLeod

 

A few days ago, a Scottish newspaper described the Rt Rev John Christie as 'the head of the Church of Scotland'. The surname of the head of the Church of Scotland is not Christie, but Christ. Mr Christie is not even 'moderator of the Church of Scotland', as he is more often known in the press. He is simply moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, the chairman of an annual meeting who then spends a year in good works and visits of various kinds.
     When I arrived in the office this morning, the first email I opened was from a reader expressing deep regret that I had resigned as the Scottish Review's leader writer. Rumours of my demise have been exaggerated: I wasn't here yesterday because I was tired and just felt like having the day off. But it seems that, within a few hours, the word was out that Roy had gone. I have reassured my fan that I subscribe to the Alex Ferguson view of life: retirement is strictly for the young.
     So there you are: two inaccuracies, one of them involving the head of the Church of Scotland, the other the editor of the Scottish Review. There's one born every minute. Inaccuracy, I mean.
     A newspaper editor was once defined as someone who is paid to separate the wheat from the chaff, and then print the chaff. There is plenty of chaff about – unparallelled quantities of the stuff. As the newspapers have become bulkier and bulkier, as the sources of information have profilerated online as well as in print, there seems to be less space than ever for accuracy. We should not confuse all this excess baggage with the sort of weight that confers reliability. The newspapers are simply fatter – and lazier.
     When I worked for the Glasgow Herald, the first significant paper that employed me, news was what mattered. The reporters covered speeches made at venerable institutions, reporting what people said. Can you imagine that happening now? If you want some coverage for an important speech, then you send out a press release and your important speech is never heard of again. Reporting of Mr Christie's General Assembly, once spread over a page, is now reduced to a sketch; for the newspapers, the Scottish Parliament was never more than a sketch.
     In the late 60s, we trawled the streets at night in search of the news. The management provided a limousine and a driver for the purpose. The 730 to 330 shift it was called. Gosh, what a glamorous life it was.

 

Whatever happened to the newspaper as 'a nation talking to itself'? If Arthur Miller's definition still holds true in general terms, it no longer seems to do so in devolved Scotland.


     Years later, when I had a long talk with Tony Howard, I realised that this is how it was for most young reporters. When Tony worked in the Guardian newsroom in Cross Street, Manchester, and Harry, the legendary news editor, found you with your feet on the desk, he would point to the new edition of the Oldham Chronicle, to a story headed 'Oldest carthorse in Manchester', and tell you to be on your way to interview the carthorse.
    Well, it's not like that any more. We don't attempt to interview carthorses, unless they happen to be members of the actors' union. The priorities have changed. The printed press, as well as the growing number of online papers, specialise in comment and miscellaneous punditry rather than news. Here in Scotland we have almost as many columns as Ancient Rome. I should know. I prop up one of them. It is said that this is what readers want; that news in the old sense is dead.
     But is it what readers want? The first paradox of the trade – the new law of journalism – is that heavy means light; more means less. But here's another: the relentless move towards bigger newspapers full of loose opinions and celebrity-driven piffle has been accompanied by a calamitous fall in circulations. Surprise surprise, the death of news in newspapers has not produced their hoped-for revival.
     Yesterday it was announced that the chief executive of Johnston Press, the group which owns the Scotsman, was standing down. The group has had a better year financially – just as well since its loss in 2009 was a death-defying £114m. But the underlying decline of the products, as they are known, continues unarrested: advertising was down 11.4% in the first nine weeks of 2011, while the sales of the group's daily titles fell by a further 7.3% last year. At the rival Herald group, there are rumours that the Sunday Herald, perhaps the best-written paper in Scotland, may not survive the year in its new incarnation as a 'news magazine'.
     The sad decline and fall of the traditional Scottish press, now accelerating, is no recent development. Before the Scottish Parliament was reinstated in 1999, I confidently predicted in this magazine that the heightened sense of Scottish identity, the new mood of self-determination, would lead to a burgeoning of the print media and maybe even the establishment of new titles. How wrong I was. In 1999, the first year of the parliament, the Scotsman's daily sale was 77,000; it now stands at 43,000. In 1999, the Herald sold 106,000 copies a day; it now sells 52,000. The collapse has occurred so steadily over so long a period that, until recently, it was barely noticed. But it is a remarkable cultural phenomenon; and its impact on Scottish democracy deserves to be more closely studied.
     One of the few encouraging signs in the Scottish media is the recent creation of a small community of online papers – the Caledonian Mercury, Newsnet Scotland, Bella Caledonia, SR itself. If the outmoded rivalries of the trade are put aside, and these papers act in a co-operative spirit, the online press can become an alternative force for good. But it will be a long time, if ever, before online titles take the place of the old-fashioned newspaper in the popular affection.
     Whatever happened to the newspaper as 'a nation talking to itself'? If Arthur Miller's definition still holds true in general terms, it no longer seems to do so in devolved Scotland. Before it is too late, we ought to be asking why and what, if anything, can be done about it. Printing less chaff, and attending to such details as the proper title of the Rt Rev John Christie, would be a useful start.

Kenneth Roy is still editor of the Scottish Review