Iain Hepburn is a journalist, podcaster and the former digital editor of the Daily Record and editor of STV Local. He is currently a multimedia producer, director of brand journalism with social media agency Contently Managed and a misanthropic commentator on the media.
For a nation that prides itself on a history of science and invention, our media seems strangely reticent to cover anything that could be vaguely techy.
Stories and coverage tends to break down into a bunch of narrowly defined areas:
And with a couple of exceptions, that’s about it.
Business stories might have a passing nod at good or bad results for a games retailer, and occasionally a new launch that’s touted as some kind of Apple product beater might get a couple of pars on a wing, but that’s largely your lot.
I’ve never quite understood the reticence, and even suspicion, with which the idea of covering consumer tech in any kind of detailed way - populist or otherwise - is held by the Scottish media, despite experiencing it several times personally. The nation which spawned RW Thomson, Alexander Graham Bell and John Logie Baird seems decidedly uneasy about covering the popular modern offshoots of their inventiveness.
A little story, filthy assistants. A few years ago, when I was working for a particular newspaper website, we were approached about covering the Edinburgh Games Festival as part of the already popular games channel on the site. The paper’s resident videogames reviewer was up for attending, and we were promised a wealth of access, interviews and so forth.
Until someone from the back bench put the kibosh any involvement, in case it interfered - even in his own time - with the reviewer’s much more important duties in the paper. After all, it was only for the website, and only videogames.
This has long been the mentality, of course. While film and music hacks are permitted - even encouraged - to generate content on company time, games are seen as a hobby, tolerated for inclusion in a weekly events listings supplement or weekend magazine, but only if sourced and written in the reviewer’s own time. And largely for little or no recompense.
Any level of deeper coverage is frowned upon. The arguments are familiar to the point of cliche - don’t have the space, doesn’t bring in advertising, it’s only the geeks and kids that care. And if that were true, if gaming and consumer tech were just a niche, such an attitude would make a modicum of sence
Yet we’re exposed to gaming, and consumer technology - much of it with a Scottish origin - every day, on our phones and iPads and laptops. Some estimates put the UK games and consumer tech industry is worth upwards of £2bn a year to the national economy - and at least £30m of that comes from Scottish firms. Even Parliament recognises the value of the industry - both on an economic and a consumer level. Earlier this month, Holyrood’s first cross-party group looking at gaming had it’s inaugural meeting - with the aim of supporting and improving the games sector in this country.
As a nation we have as many games players as we do cinema goers - and a thriving development industry dotted up and down the East Coast to support them, from mobile gaming to top-end console titles. We have a sweep of exciting visually beguiling titles, knowledgeable and pundits and a wealth of material and issues to cover. And few outlets prepared to do so.
Mind you, if newspapers are bad, broadcasting’s even worse.
Scotland, of course, has a fine and noble tradition of pioneering games programming. Channel 4’s quirky and subversive late-night series Bits was born in Glasgow, while BBC Scotland’s acclaimed videoGaiden was itself born from Robert Florence and Ryan Macleod’s genuinely brilliant web series Consolevania.
But these days while Scotland gives us the Film programme on BBC One, Radio Scotland has the Movie Cafe, and STV boasts Moviejuice to entertain the eighteen people watching on a Friday night, there’s a distinct lack of games or consumer technology output among their schedules.
Would it be so much of a stretch to produce programming that targeted the digital generation? A Gamesjuice highlighting new releases, interviews and features? A monthly Cyber Cafe on Radio Scotland looking at populist features, interviews and reviews in Scotland’s science, technology and consumer entertainment sectors? There's a huge gap in the market which hasn't remotely been filled.
It was interesting to watch Seonag Mackinnon’s pieces on Reporting Scotland recently, highlighting the drop-off in graduates and school-leavers moving into tech-led fields this side of Hadrian’s Wall. How much of that, you have to wonder, is down to a lack of significant media coverage of the sector?
Yet for the mainstream media in Scotland, it remains an embarrassment to be given as short shrift as possible. And few things highlight how out of touch our media is with the move to online.
How long until it’s game over?
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