Newsnet Scotland … A Continuing Story

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  By Online Ed
 
I remember one day waking up and wondering which party had won a crucial by-election.  It was winter 2006 and I had been off work with a dreadful bout of flu.
 
I had just discovered something called the internet existed and found myself on a forum which discussed Scottish politics.  The theme always seemed to be independence and the SNP.

  By Online Ed
 
I remember one day waking up and wondering which party had won a crucial by-election.  It was winter 2006 and I had been off work with a dreadful bout of flu.
 
I had just discovered something called the internet existed and found myself on a forum which discussed Scottish politics.  The theme always seemed to be independence and the SNP.

I was a Labour voter of long standing, but the exchanges sparked something and I found myself slowly drawn into what is now known as the constitutional debate.

Willie Rennie won the Dunfermline and West Fife by-election and, if memory serves, the SNP came in a disappointing third or fourth – you can check it on the web I suppose.

Alex Salmond’s party was written off as a force by almost everyone after the result.  I thought differently and with nothing else to do I wrote to the Herald saying so … watch 2007 I said, that’s a home tie.

I used to buy the Herald every day and read it back to front and inside out.  It was a fantastic newspaper and seemed to offer a balanced and a very highly informed summary of the Scottish political scene.  My letter was published and my mother, a Daily Record reader, rushed out to buy it and show her friends.

In the weeks leading up to the 2007 Scottish election I began noticing a subtle change in the Herald’s coverage.  The paper began taking a more aggressive anti-SNP stance – at the same time my own belief in Labour was eroding.

Alex Salmond eventually pulled off an amazing win and Scottish politics changed forever.  So too did my trust in the Scottish media.

My interest in politics heightened, I realised there was no outlet remotely sympathetic to the SNP.  That lack of trust resulted in the creation of a small newsletter called Newsnet Scotland. 

In the late summer of 2009 the first newsletter was sent out to email addresses I had accumulated on my own home PC.  Around 50 or so were sent using a wee program I had written.

In an attempt at attracting more subscribers, a small blog was set up called … not surprisingly … Newsnet Scotland.

The newsletter grew to around 400 people.  But something rather unexpected happened, the posts on the blog, which highlighted the rather partisan and one sided nature of newspaper and BBC coverage of Scottish politics, also grew in popularity.

It was clear that a great many people sympathised with the narrative of the blog.  [The template for the blog has been used by others, but all can trace their lineage back to a book by US comedian Al Franken – Lies and the Lying Liars who tell them]

It was suggested to me by my son that a fully-fledged online site be set up with a view to making the blog posts more accessible.  At the same time, the idea of presenting stories in the form of news articles took hold.

In March 2010, two months before the UK general election, the site you are reading now came alive properly.  Newsnet Scotland adopted a twin approach of regular news articles and a regular scrutiny of the BBC.

The radical approach was unique, there was nothing quite like the site.  It attracted attention and began spreading through word of mouth and links from readers who passed it on to others.

However its habit of questioning the BBC’s interpretation of Scottish politics led to the site being banned by the broadcaster.  The move was possibly a first in UK politics and remains unique to this day.

By the time of the Scottish election of May 2011, the readership had grown to a respectable 30,000 a month. 

Two days before the election Newsnet Scotland became the first citizen journalism news site to run an advert in a national newspaper.  A quarter page advert appeared in the Metro newspaper.

We’ve grown since then, slowly and gradually, and in the eighteen days of September up until the day of the referendum we attracted 300,000 unique visitors.  This month we will have been read by over 430,000 people.

The site has been driven by unpaid volunteers from its inception to this point.  Funding has come from ads and donations.  One of the earliest donations, and still the largest, was £10,000 from a gentleman to whom who we owe a debt of gratitude – Thanks Douglas.

The money has allowed us to pay writers of the calibre of Lesley Riddoch, George Kerevan and David Torrance.  Freelance writers have also graced the pages of Newsnet as we tried to maintain fresh daily content.

The brand can go only so far under the stewardship of part-time volunteers, no matter how talented.

Last week we entered talks with respected broadcaster Derek Bateman and his business associate Maurice Smith.  Our offer was simple, take the brand and build it.

Scotland is on a cusp, we are changing.  Our electorate has gone from politically naïve to politically engaged within the space of two years.  Our traditional media refuses to mirror the change.

In the days leading up to the referendum, not one daily newspaper backed a Yes vote.  One Sunday title came out in support of Yes and saw its circulation double.

How long the Sunday Herald will remain committed to independence cannot be known.  Will the backing for Yes lead to editorial support for a Yes alliance of SNP, Green or SSP?

Yes supporters who buy daily newspapers are effectively funding pro-Union campaigners.  The BBC has become a laughing stock with its brazen promotion of a pro-Union agenda and many in Scotland are openly boasting of having cancelled their licence fee. 

This presents an opportunity to the Yes movement.

The independence movement cannot rely on the traditional media.  It has to create a media outlet that can be relied on to challenge the BBC, the Herald, the Daily Record and the Scotsman.  Any new media outlet must be able attract top quality journalists whose job will be to set the news narrative rather than respond to it.

How this will be done is beyond me.  But two things will certainly be required.

The first is a regular income stream. 

The BBC currently commends a licence fee from each householder in Scotland of £145.50 per year.  At an estimate, there are now almost half of the households in Scotland in favour of independence.

If the anger people feel towards the conduct of the BBC throughout the referendum can be channelled into funding a new media outlet then this could be a rich source of revenue.  People are primed and ready to take on this institution like never before.

The second thing that has to be overcome is the disparate nature of the so-called Yes media.  The independence referendum has led to an explosion of websites and blogs where previously there was a desert.

Sites that existed prior to May 2011 include Scottish Review, Bella Caledonia and the Caledonian Mercury.  The Review and Bella upgraded their sites after the SNP’s historic win, the Mercury diminished.

Organisations that sprang up after May 2011 include Business for Scotland, National Collective, Wings over Scotland, Women for Independence and a host of others.  These sites all campaigned for independence and fed off of it.

Newsnet Scotland more than once called for some cooperation between sites in the months leading up to the referendum, a basic call for content to be shared.  I lost count of the number of times one site had a very well written article, but that was never made available to others.

In one episode, Newsnet Scotland ran an article from a well-known figure.  That same day we received an email from a ‘rival’ pro-Yes site angry that we had ruined their exclusive.

We regularly published articles and stories beneath which we made clear they could be reproduced by anyone without need to acknowledging us as the source.  They never were.

We ran adverts when asked and were happy to help anyone.

This cooperative approach is what a new media outlet will require.  A sharing of resource will of course lead to a sharing of cost and a reduction in duplication of effort.

Imagine a joint commission producing a high quality documentary that eventually makes it onto main-stream scheduling.  A well-researched piece of investigative journalism could force the news narrative if all outlets cooperated and ran it together.

A single New Independent Media body could be set up to serve as a single entry point for traditional broadcast media, which could lead to more ‘new media’ commentators appearing on our radio and TV screens.

Newsnet Scotland was a ‘pure’ citizen journalism site.  It’s creator had no knowledge of journalism and had never written before.  We were the first outlet to regularly merge video and audio into our articles.

Its volunteers included a chiropodist, retired deputy headmaster, former mechanical fitter and an English language teacher in Spain.  The person who packaged and posted our car stickers and other merchandise was a former addict, now recovering. 

Ordinary everyday people, some of whom endured the most awful personal tragedies in their lives, but together we created the first daily news site with a pro-independence editorial line.  Incredibly it remains the only pro-independence daily news site in existence.  But it was never about us.

So good luck Mr Bateman and a huge thanks to everyone who contributed and helped Newsnet Scotland along the way.  The story continues.