February 5, 2013 by Colin Kelly
We all have our own ideas on Scottish independence and I won’t be sharing mine here!
But I’m sure we’d all agree the next few years are going to be a very interesting and important time for this country, and the media has a big role to play.
But is the media, or what’s left of it in Scotland, big enough to play that role?
14 years ago I graduated from the journalism course at Napier University and began working full-time in commercial radio newsrooms. I loved the work and there was a huge amount of output to get involved in.
Paisley had its own full-time, 24/7 local radio station with live and local news bulletins from 6am-9pm every day. Lanarkshire was about to launch something similar. Scot FM had a news team of more than 10 staff with a 2 hour all news programme very lunchtime and a speech based phone in at night. Clyde and Forth regularly broadcast documentaries and features and their group had live news bulletins right through the night from Glasgow and extensive coverage at weekends.
Times change of course and it’s not like that now. You can get news, sport and other information however and whenever you want through the internet and you could argue that if there was enough demand for the type of service I’ve outlined above, then it would still exist today. I’m the last person you’ll find harking back to how things used to be.
Listeners and advertisers call the shots and there’s nothing wrong with that.
BUT..journalism is about much more than what the audience wants, or what makes money. A big part of it is about holding people and institutions to account.
The days I’m talking about, around the turn of the century forced certain organisations to answer questions. We had HOURS to fill and reporters that went out and got stories. Questions were asked, reactions sought and bulletins broadcast. There were consequences too. Decision making affecting politics and business was played out in public. There was no hiding place.
This all came back to my mind this morning after I visited Ronnie Bergman, a lecturer in journalism at the University of the West of Scotland’s Hamilton campus. We talked about the changing face of the media in Scotland and I was really impressed with how the course has adapted to the new landscape and economics and kept up with how things are now.
On the way home I drove past the Strathclyde Fire and Rescue headquarters which are a stone’s throw from the university. I remembered the countless times I’d attended there in my journalism days to interview someone from their team. And I tried to remember the last time I’d heard them being interviewed on local radio. Then I thought about the hundreds of other organisations – public sector, private sector, trade unions, charities, pressure groups, etc etc who used to contribute so frequently to the programmes I used to work on.
I’m extremely positive about the future and the Scottish media. I’m really pleased to see people blogging, tweeting, podcasting and a shift towards more online content. But there’s something about taking a council official, charity campaigner or company spokesperson, putting them live on air and asking them whatever you want. Putting them under scrutiny and letting the audience draw their own conclusions.
There’s no going back to 1999, nor should there be. But I hope the business of holding people to account, scrutinising decisions and providing a fair and balanced record of events won’t be lost in favour of rip and reads, ’60 second updates’ and snappy bits of text on websites.
I’m all for citizen journalists. But they need to have teeth. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer. Don’t let people hide.
There might be fewer mass media outlets than there were when I started and it might be difficult to fund original journalism – but it’s never been more important.