As 2013 draws to a close there is that feeling of calm before the storm. The festive celebrations have pushed the debate on independence into the background for a few days.
This political ceasefire will end with the sounding of the bells at midnight on December 31st. The ending of Hogmanay will mark the beginning of a new year and a near nine month campaign that will culminate on September 18th with the referendum to end all referendums.
The world’s eyes will fall on Scotland that day as one of the most enduring political unions ever seen faces being brought to an end. No one knows how the chips will fall but in the weeks and months leading up to the vote, many will be trying to influence the result.
Newsnet Scotland hopes to play a role in that process by informing, as best we can, the debate on Scotland’s future.
Our own journey started in the spring of 2009 when as a small newsletter we arrived in the in-boxes of people who had registered to receive Newsnet Scotland. We end 2013 having become one of the most successful online news outlets in Scotland with a regular monthly readership of over 125,000.
As has been acknowledged by us before though, our readership total, though impressive, gives us little by way of real influence. To achieve that, we need to increase our profile and penetration levels significantly.
Our crowdfunding appeal ends at midnight on Hogmanay. At the time of writing it has raised an impressive £12,000. As we enter the new year Newsnet Scotland will begin the task of honouring those donors who selected from our crowdfunding list of perks.
The appeal target was £40,000 and clearly that target will be missed. The forty thousand pound goal was very ambitious but so too were some of the ideas that led to us choosing this figure.
One such was a dedicated film crew whose role, as well as filming Newsnet Scotland organised debates, would have included pressing leading pro-Union politicians on issues mostly avoided by the traditional broadcast media. Another included a hard-copy Newsnet Scotland, printed monthly and distributed door to door.
These ideas have now been shelved and thus our focus is now centred on what we can realistically achieve.
That includes publishing regular articles from established commentators. We can reveal that we have commissioned two of Scotland’s most respected commentators to write regularly for Newsnet Scotland.
In a new monthly column for Newsnet Scotland, Lesley Riddoch will give her views on topical events as we head towards referendum day. Joining Lesley will be David Torrance who has also agreed to contribute regularly. You can read David’s review of 2013 in a specially commissioned end of the year feature to be published next week.
The contributions from Lesley and David will be framed by news articles from our freelance writers and other opinion pieces from our regular commentators including G.A.Ponsonby and Mark McNaught.
However good the content of any outlet, there is little point if those who would benefit most are unaware of the vendor’s existence. This is especially true in the case of non-traditional online outlets like Newsnet Scotland.
The need for citizen journalism as Scotland enters the final phase of the independence debate is starkly demonstrated by our exclusive revelation that the BBC had been found guilty of misleading the Scottish public over one of the key issues of the independence debate.
The media in Scotland is pro-Union and those who report on events will reflect the editorial line and culture of their respective employer. This culture can sometimes lead to reporters indulging their own prejudices and deliberately lying as they pursue a pro-union agenda.
Many of these media commentators and bodies will be presented by our broadcasters as ‘neutral’ in the independence debate, when in fact they are nothing of the sort.
The strategy of Newsnet Scotland therefor will be to raise our profile and increase readership through a series of targeted leaflet campaigns. We are currently looking into how best to achieve this and, if successful, we hope to double Newsnet Scotland’s readership to a quarter of a million before the referendum.
Other forms of advertising have not been ruled out, but we are mindful of the need to spend wisely.
Our Duggy Dug series of animations is almost complete with the fourth, on EU membership, about to enter production. The first three dealt with oil, borders and currency and all three can be viewed here.
The first three animations were already funded prior to the crowdfunding appeal and the fourth had been commissioned with funding partly in place.
The crowdfunding appeal will allow one more animation, a fifth, to be commissioned. This will focus on the possible consequences of a No vote and will see Duggy step into a future Scotland where free prescriptions, free bus travel and free tuition have all ended and welfare cuts imposed, but billions spent on a new nuclear weapon system that sits on the Clyde.
The Duggy Dug animations are designed to appeal to those people who might best be described as less engaged in the independence debate. Those members of the electorate who turn off when the latest report from the OBR or CPPR are headlined by our newspapers and broadcasters.
People who have never heard of Barroso or Rajoy and have no idea what a lender of last resort is. Most may vote Labour because that’s just what they have always done … and some may not even vote at all.
What the animations are not designed to do is to inform those who are already immersed in the independence debate. We will be actively promoting Duggy Dug when all five animations have been completed.
We have one area that needs addressing and that is the area of research and communication.
Newsnet Scotland has, for some time, urged those who inhabit the online community to try to contribute positively to the independence debate. Today we appeal to those who have the time, to consider becoming members of the Newsnet Scotland team.
We are particularly interested in people who are articulate and can communicate effectively. Our aim is to have two or three individuals capable of telephoning organisations on our behalf in order to seek information and or quotes.
These organisations may from time to time be pro-Union politicians and/or their party spokespeople. We need people who are polite but firm and who are calm when pressing these parties for a response.
Another responsibility for such volunteers would include the sending off freedom of Information requests to various bodies.
Newsnet Scotland has evolved into a respected news outlet. People visiting our site will be met with high quality content beneath which lies commentary that is abuse free. This is key if we are to influence those yet to make a decision on which side to give their referendum support to.
Producing quality content free of misinformation married to interaction devoid of abuse is absolutely vital for Newsnet Scotland. One of the areas of weakness for the pro-independence campaign is the occasional thoughtlessness that pervades online messages.
Despite this, the site has found itself under attack and attempts at discrediting our content has been made by several high profile Unionist politicians and media commentators. Such attacks will increase as the referendum nears if we are perceived to be a threat.
However in recognition of the fact that many people wish to engage in the independence debate in ways that allow more forthright and robust language, we are currently in the process of setting up a stand alone Newnet forum that will allow people to post comments on issues and topics they feel strongly about. The NewsnetForum will be based on the Newnset brand and, we hope, will become an important addition to the thriving online social media community.
We hope to become bigger, better and more widely read.
Newsnet Scotland is taking a bit of a festive rest at the moment, it’s battery recharging time. We aim to hit the ground running in the new year.
[Newsnet Scotland had planned a feature article based on some of the worst political broadcasts by the BBC in relation to Scotland. This feature has been delayed but will appear in the near future.]