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Subsidise quality journalism plea from the editor of The Scotsman

By Hamish Mackay

February 24, 2012 | 3 min read

The editor of The Scotsman, John McLellan, has declared quality journalism needs to be subsidised.

Making his plea today in his editor’s notebook in his paper, , McLellan pointed out that much of the commentary surrounding the death of Sunday Times foreign correspondent, Marie Colvin, in Syria compared her journalism with the reporting currently under the microscope at the Leveson Inquiry into press standards

He observed: “Colvin was indeed in the finest tradition of war reporters, thrusting herself into danger in order to bring home the truth of what was going on at the front line in an attempt to reveal the human tragedy that lies at the heart of every conflict.

“That such work is essential is beyond doubt, and neither is the fact that most journalists would not put themselves through the hardships endured by war correspondents. Sitting here in a well-appointed office in one of the safest cities in the world, I am no different.

“We live in a risk-averse world, with offices up and down the land festooned with posters warning us about how to lift heavy boxes, to watch out for stray cables and other mortal dangers.

“How the likes of Colvin and our own Ruth Sherlock must have laughed when they came home from places like Misrata and Homs to see what passes for risk here. And then of course there are the insurance policies: the cost of insuring a journalist anywhere near a war zone is astronomical.

“But as many others have said better than I in the past 36 hours, nothing should get in the way of the job people like Colvin did and there is a real danger that a combination of risk aversion, the collapse of media company revenues and a crushing of the Press by over-regulation means that supporting staff like Marie Colvin becomes well-nigh impossible.

“While critics will argue that a healthy Press should be able to sustain the work of war correspondents and other specialists, the fact is that providing such coverage is hugely expensive and someone has to fund it.

“In the case of Marie Colvin, her paper, the Sunday Times, has been loss-making for a considerable amount of time, as has its sister the Times.

“The truth of News International is that the fine work of journalists like Marie Colvin has been bank-rolled by the success of News International’s popular papers, namely the Sun and the News of the World.

“Their robust style of journalism, now much derided by the chattering classes, was what paid the bills and losing the latter was a mortal blow to the entire group.

“Not surprisingly Rupert Murdoch was keen not to let the phone-hacking scandal and the Leveson Inquiry hand the entire popular Sunday market to his rivals and the birth of the Sun on Sunday was only a matter of time.

“The fact remains that quality journalism is expensive to produce and apart from the Daily Telegraph, all national quality titles are losing money and need a subsidy.”

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