The Scottish Government is being urged to create a Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute (SPIJI) in a 30-page report from a working group set up earlier this year with the remit '... to consider the long-term sustainability of public interest journalism in Scotland and recommend ways to ensure its ongoing resilience and relevance'.
The overview of the Public Interest Journalism Working Group (PIJWG) explains: 'Public interest journalism has faced a number of significant challenges in recent years – including declining newspaper circulations; increasing alternative news sources; the challenge of tech firms – both as sources of content and as advertising platforms; and ongoing questions about the reliability and objectivity of news sources'.
The PIJWG has produced a report which aims '... to provide the basis for a rich and sustainable news publishing landscape' and tackle the problems facing the sector – both because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the long-term digital revolution. The PIJWG believes it has found solutions that could 'ensure that both established titles and new independent players can thrive'.
In a footnote, the PIJWG points out: 'We are confident that there is a very strong appetite for quality public interest journalism in Scotland and that the recommendations in this report will go a long way to sustaining the independent, quality media landscape Scotland has always enjoyed and should continue to enjoy in the future.
'Wherever possible, our proposals have not included legislation – both because of the need for expediency and because we recognise that the separation of the Fourth Estate
from government is essential to any system of democratic scrutiny.'
The PIJWG members included Stuart Birkett, media management consultant to Highland News and Media; Richard Bogie, MD of News Scotland; Rhiannon Davies, founder/editor of the Greater Govanhill
community magazine; Rob Edwards, freelance journalist and co-founder of The Ferret investigative journalism co-operative; Rachel Hamada, Bureau of Investigative Journalism/co-founder of The Ferret; Jonathan Heawood, executive director of the Public Interest News Foundation and a former chief executive of press regulator IMPRESS; Hans Marter, owner/editor of the Shetland News
online news service; John McLellan, director of the Scottish Newspaper Society and former editor-in-chief of Scotsman Publications; Allan Rennie, a former editor of both the Daily Record
and Sunday Mail,
and former MD and editor-in-chief of Media Scotland; Emma Meese, a director of both the Independent Community News Network (ICNN) and the Centre for Community Journalism; media consultant Denise West; Joyce McMillan, freelance journalist and chair of the National Union of Journalists (NUJ) Edinburgh freelance branch; Frances Rafferty, the NUJ's senior editorial and communications officer; and John Toner, the NUJ's Scottish national organiser.
The report cites the example of the Eskdale & Liddesdale Advertiser
, which was taken over by community group Muckle Toon Media in 2017 after the CN Group put the title up for sale for a nominal amount. This is contrasted with the family-owned Nairnshire Telegraph
which ceased publication last year.
The main recommendations from the PIJWG include:
• The Scottish Government (SG) establish a Scottish Public Interest Journalism Institute (SPIJI) – a high-profile independent body drawing on a wide range of resources to develop public interest journalism for Scotland – co-ordinating new and existing initiatives and strategically administering grant funding to support a diverse, pluralistic and sustainable Scottish public interest media sector.
• The SG and the Scottish charity regulator, OSCR, take steps to enable non-profit public interest news providers to register as charities: and the SG should also create an alternative legal status, with similar tax benefits to charitable status, for other non-profit public interest news providers.
• The SG examine the feasibility of introducing provisions like those in the 2003 Land Reform (Scotland) Act to give community groups scope to take over a local news publication that is otherwise in danger of closing.
• Audit Scotland, in partnership with the SPIJI, conduct an annual audit of advertising and marketing investment by the SG and public bodies, to include a measurement of the impact of this expenditure on the health of the Scottish news publishing landscape; and the SG invest no less than 25% of its central advertising and marketing budget with public interest news providers.
• The SG work with the UK Government to ensure that the new Digital Markets Unit enables public interest news providers of all shapes and sizes to thrive in the digital economy.
Two prominent Scottish media folk – Heather Dewar and Margot McCuaig – are in contention for a prestigious new Scottish sports-related award.
Heather and Margot, plus Claire Nelson, the chief executive of Netball Scotland, are in contention for the Active Scotland-sponsored Media & Gender Equality Award in the annual awards event run by the Scottish Women in Sport (SWI
S) charity. The winner of this new award and 10 other categories will be announced at a dinner in Glasgow on 26 November.
Journalist and broadcaster Heather Dewar, 47, currently freelancing, has worked worldwide covering major sporting events including the Olympics. She has primarily been associated with BBC Scotland – in television, radio and online.
She told me: 'Being nominated for this award among such great company is an absolute honour. As a journalist, working in the world of women's sport has most definitely had its challenges but it has been wonderful to see a growth in coverage across all media platforms.
'I hope I have been able to play a small part in that through my role as the first officially titled Women's Sport Reporter for BBC Scotland, the Women in Sport
podcast, women's football reporting, TV and radio features, numerous BBC online stories and the hosting of female-inspired events.
'In recent times, that credit goes to the Scottish Daily Mail
, which has given women's sport both a platform and a voice. When the pandemic hit and fears grew about coverage stagnating, it gave me the opportunity to further the work I had started and allowed me to bring more stories to life.
'Often, the biggest challenge in getting women's sport covered comes from within one's own departments. This remains a huge problem in media organisations.
'The Scottish Daily Mail
has risen above this and has given me the freedom to write and express an opinion. The editorial team have been an absolute joy to work with. I am confident that through them, the coverage of women's sport in this country will only continue to grow.
'With regards to those I have written about – the trust, respect and honesty they have shown, has been truly humbling – with many opening up to me in ways they have never done so before. I am incredibly grateful to them for this, and hope I have done justice to their stories.'
Margaret McCuaig has a global reputation as a sports documentary filmmaker, director and scriptwriter who has won several Royal Television Society Scotland awards. As an executive producer for Irish-headquartered production company Nemeton TV, which has a base in Glasgow, she has been involved in hundreds of hours of sports programming for BBC ALBA, including the Women's Six Nation rugby internationals.
In a recent interview, she declared: 'BBC ALBA has really positioned itself as a real champion of women's sport in this country with the football coverage having grown and grown over the last decade and to bring the rugby coverage up to the same level is something great to be a part of. I believe it can help take the women's game to a new audience – and to another level – in this country. These women have been marginalised for too long but now they have a platform to showcase what they can do and become role models to aspiring youngsters'.
Claire Nelson, 40, is chief executive of Netball Scotland which was recently one of four Scottish sports to share a £1 million Scottish Government grant with £100,000 going to Strathclyde Sirens – Scotland's only professional team.
She believes that women's sport has a pivotal role to play in life post-lockdown, explaining: 'I believe that it can be very powerful in impacting and changing the way women see their bodies; the way we talk and the opportunities that we have. I see it as a platform for change and that's why it's so important'.
S was founded by Maureen McGonigle in 2013 and she is its chief operating officer. Maureen, who writes a weekly column for The National
newspaper, told me: 'As the only awards celebrating Scottish women in sport, we are hosting a night of glamour and pushing out all the stops to show our appreciation for the athletes, coaches, volunteers, media and teams who have brought success for women in sports across Scotland.
'It is important to celebrate the achievements of women in sport and those who work tirelessly in the background to ensure girls and women have the best experience within their chosen sport – whether participating, officiating or supporting.'
The deputy editor-in-chief of the Belfast Telegraph
and Sunday Life
, Martin Breen, is the new president of the Society of Editors
(SOE), and he told the SOE's agm: 'We are a campaigning group, with a core purpose of protecting freedom of speech and expression. The support of high journalistic standards within our industry is more important than ever in the delivery of quality, trustworthy journalism.
'Key to this success is a properly diverse and inclusive media, and in 2022 I and the Society will persist with actively encouraging diversity and inclusion, at all levels, in the media across the UK.'
The new vice-president is Kamal Ahmed, editor-in-chief and co-founder of the recently launched The News Movement
, who began his career on the Lennox Herald
weekly newspaper – subsequently working for Scotland on Sunday
, The Guardian
, The Observer
and the Sunday Telegraph
before joining the BBC where he was latterly editorial director before losing his job earlier this year in a management restructuring. Also joining the SOE board are Daily Mirror
editor, Alison Phillips, and Ian Brunskill, assistant editor of The Times