Scottish Sun editor on how print prudence can improve digital reporting

News UK event, Alan Muir hosting on the right

Alan Muir, editor of The Scottish Sun, shared how digital journalists can work with their incumbent print counterparts to better both mediums at News Scotland’s annual News Academy Conference.

The event at the News Scotland offices hosted around 140 students keen on a career in journalism with workshops and panels discussing the issues facing the industry – and the skills needed to overcome them.

While The Scottish Sun is one of Scotland's most read newspapers, it is making futureproofing efforts by embracing the digital platform and a generation of reporters who will be native to it. Integrating these writers into an experienced newsroom filled with print veterans can be difficult but has its benefits.

Muir told The Drum how he would like to see greater collaboration between his old-school print journalists and the new on the scene digital reporters. He said: “We are not the only newsroom facing this. In an ideal world I would quite like to see our existing older school print reporters embracing digital more than they do at the moment, being able to create a story online. And likewise, I would like to see the digital journalists integrate more into the newsroom.”

The Murdoch-owned group, publisher of The Times Scotland, The Sunday Times Scotland, The Scottish Sun and The Scottish Sun on Sunday, is a relative new player in the digital space, with The Times sitting behind a paywall and The Sun dropping its barrier in 2015. As such, it is faced with the challenge of building the brand online.

Demand to gain work experience at the national is purportedly at an all-time high. Muir spoke of the high volume of work experience journalists coming through his doors, underlining that there was a time when the company tried to restrict these to a “10 week period during the summer”. These efforts failed due to demand.

Nonetheless, Muir said that these applicants could benefit from some time at their local paper. “Quite often journalists are coming out of college and university and they have not had that apprenticeship at the local paper. It helps builds up a confidence. You are based in a wee community where you get to know everyone – and that translates to a national paper.”

He acknowledged the pressure for speed against quality facing digital journalists. At the event, four time Bafta-winning Panorama journalist Sam Poling told students to fact check and corroborate stories with three sources. These practices are not always adhered to. Presenter and BBC Radio Scotland host Kaye Adams talked about a story in The Sun that claimed she did not pick up up her dog’s poo – the story was reportedly sourced from a hearsay tweet of someone who did not even witness the supposed event.

“This ‘if you’re not fast but last’ mentality in building traffic in the hope it translates into money is a conundrum," said Muir. "I don’t think any newsroom has quite figured out yet. It is at the forefront of any newsroom’s mind."

In many ways, digital reporting could stand to learn from print. “No matter what the story is, you have to be confident it is right, just in the way it takes 12 hours to make sure the paper is accurate and up to date, you have to apply these principles throughout. It may be at odds with the speed of things, but if in doubt, keep it out.

“We are in a faster paced age, but also one of greater scrutiny from readers and the authorities. People are ready to pounce if you get something wrong.”

Amid the day’s discussions of fake news, monetisation issues and the role of social media in the newsroom, Muir offered some clarity on the future of the industry. “We are in a good place, we are at a point we can carve our own future. You’ve seen it, there are dozens of young folk wanting to be journalists, so it is up to us to make sure there is a thriving industry for them to come into.”

At the event Adams took the audience through the modern issues in journalism while also having her say on the BBC pay disparity issue that flared up during her keynote.

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