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Mike's Media Monitor

By The Drum | Administrator

April 7, 2005 | 6 min read

I have recently been involved in an argument, with a friend and colleague. Admittedly, he has acted as a consultant to the City of Edinburgh Council, so, maybe, he has become less detached. Then again, maybe he sees with greater clarity than most outsiders. His argument is simple: The Evening Times newspaper in Glasgow supports its city in a way that the Edinburgh Evening News does not.

During one exchange, this time via e-mail, he even cited an extract from a book by former Daily Telegraph and London Evening Standard editor, Max Hastings.

In Editor, Hastings writes: “All newspapers make factual errors, errors, misjudgements of taste. But a partition now divides British newspapers. On one side of it are those titles which make some honest attempt to tell the truth in what they publish. They swiftly correct errors in print, even without the threat of legal sanctions. On the other side are those which traffic unashamedly in fantasy.

“Red top [tabloid] and broadsheet reporters no more belong to the same trade, or are pursuing the same objectives, than abortionists and obstetricians.”

My colleague is obviously trying to bracket red tops with local, evening newspapers. And if you were, until recently, a Labour councillor in Aberdeen, you might have had some sympathy with the view, as the Evening Express pursued a pretty vitriolic agenda against the city council there.

There is, obviously, some similarity in the design, and even writing style, between a red top and a local evening newspaper. But in at least one crucial respect, they cannot be more different.

Hastings would no doubt agree: red tops can parachute a reporter into a story, pretty confident that, no matter the mess that’s left behind, it will make hardly a dent in circulation figures that are, after all, national.

That said, The Sun’s insensitive criticism of Liverpool fans, following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989, to this day has not been forgiven in much of Merseyside; there will be, still, Celtic supporters unable to pick up a copy of the Daily Record on account of a headline, a couple of years ago, accusing the club’s players of being thugs after a Christmas night out.

But I digress. The conventional wisdom is that the national is more able to brush off any local backlash. And it mostly holds true. The local newspaper editor, and his or her team, cannot afford to take too many liberties with the readership or the local authority that serves them, for fear of scything their circulation and losing vast tracts of revenue. Local authorities do, after all, advertise extensively in their local rag.

The relationship between the Evening Express and Aberdeen City Council at one point a few years ago did get so strained that withdrawing advertising was actually considered, albeit in the guise of seeking best value for money.

Therefore, congratulations to Martin Biddle, of the Greenock Telegraph, and David Leask, of the Evening Times, both nominated in this year’s Scottish Press Awards, the nominations for which were announced a week ago.

Both find themselves in the campaigning category, albeit that their campaigns were to save hospitals from cuts or closure than to give their local authority a kicking. Both journalists – and their colleagues who assisted them – managed to successfully reconcile the essential championing function of the local newspaper with the commercial imperatives, at least short-term, implied by potentially alienating a major customer. Leask's efforts has also led to The Evening Times being chosen as Campaigning Newspaper of the Year at the recent Newspaper Society awards.

And, of course, local authorities and similar major institutions have another very simple threat at their disposal, to rein in perceived errant publications: a cessation of the steady stream of notices, press calls and media releases.

However, those on the receiving end of a campaign conducted with integrity are likely to concede grudging respect. The problem that used to exist in Aberdeen was that, every day, in the Evening Express, there would be a knocking story. It seems it required a change in administration – from Labour to a coalition of LibDems and Tories – to get the paper to ease up. It might have been that, sooner or later, readers would have made the decision for the Evening Express, by getting fed up with the transparent viciousness and taking their spending habits elsewhere.

There is an obvious difference between the Evening Times and Evening News; the former serves more local authority areas. The more local authorities, the harder it becomes to spot a pre-meditated campaign against one of them.

Furthermore, on the thinnest of evidence, I suggest another might be that Glasgow City Council more recognises a story when it sees one than Edinburgh might. I’ve seen garbled media releases from Edinburgh but noted that Glasgow has recently recruited James Doherty, previously a reporter at The Scotsman. In the end, it’s the story that counts.

Ordinarily, when a movie has allowed itself to become a subtle (and sometimes not-so-subtle) advertising vehicle for one or more products, money has exchanged hands. And probably a considerable amount too.

Scottish film producer, Susan Nickalls would probably not be averse to any offer of cash. However, that’s not what is uppermost in her mind.

Nickalls is working on a Tartan Short short film. At the End of the Sentence, written by well-known Scottish playwright, David Greig, can look forward to being premiered at this year’s Edinburgh International Film Festival, before being broadcast on BBC ONE, and then hopefully becoming a favourite at film festivals around the world.

It comes with the territory of working on short film, that a producer has to work with a limited budget. And while the cast and crew work beyond the call of duty, Susan is busy exploring ways of thanking them for their sterling efforts. Cash would be nice. But boxes of chocolates and bottles of whisky would not go amiss, either.

Any company wishing to support the Tartan Short production should call Susan Nickalls on 0141 942 4243.

Finally, in case you missed it, amid all the furore over proposed massive job cuts at the BBC, BBC Scotland is to get a new morning/early afternoon schedule. The once flagship twelve-til-two phone-in show, hosted by Lesley Riddoch, is to be divided between a news programme, being presented by Gary Robertson, and the arts show currently being broadcast in the early evening. And, if you think you’re seeing double, fear not. It’s true, as part of the revamp, Robertson also appears in a 9.00 to 9.30am slot.

Mike Wilson is a director of the media website, www.allmediascotland.com.

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