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Matter of Facts

All laudable, but is anyone thinking of the poor reader?

What, here, is going to build up a mass audience? Or a valuable niche? Because these are the only two games in town when it comes to funding journalism.

While a few potential readers are willing to promise money now to something worthy like Matter, what any publication needs to survive these days is a savvy, then ruthlessly executed, business plan.

In the digital age, few publications can afford to survive without building either a valuable niche audience willing to pay (and which advertisers need to reach) or a mass audience of freeloaders who can be monetized for pennies per thousand.

In Scotland, this is going to be difficult. This is a tiny nation; you'll never fund a New York Times-scale operation here. It'll be tough via paywalls or free.

Yet nor can anyone enjoy the kind of cozy near-monopolies of - say - Scandinavian titles in similarly-sized nations. Why? The existing media industry is hugely, absurdly competitive, with many of the market participants not funded by their activity in Scotland, but by their much larger UK-wide national ad sales.

Then there is an extensive domestic media which, while now struggling, ensures those who want a home-grown Scottish media option have plenty of good-enough choices.

Both these factors also ensure talent is spread thinly, which has an impact on quality.

Readers may say they want serious, investigative journalism, but the web stats show they rarely read it. If they don't read it, they won't pay for it, directly via payment or indirectly through advertising.

If there's to be a Scottish journalistic renaissance, it's going to need a cull of existing titles, some brave souls and some deep pockets. Plus the editing savvy to combine the worthy long reads and serious, vital investigations with brilliant football coverage and a decent horoscope.

Which used, incidentally, to be the formula for the Daily Record.

24 Feb 2012 - 15:37