Time to reward Scotland's bold digital news mavericks
It’s that time of year again. In the next couple of weeks, hacks up and down the land will be digging out their cuttings files and trawling the back issues to find their best tales of the past 12 months, while newsdesks and editors across the land draw up shortlists of the reporters, writers and snappers they want to get recognition.
Yes, it’s Press Awards nominations time. For me, the focus will be on the New Media Journalist award - or whatever name they give it this time round, which enters its fourth year of being presented.
Last year, the category threw something of a curveball, with the name James Doleman sitting among the well kent faces of Bev Lyons, Jasper Hammill, John Dingwall and Deborah Anderson.
Doleman wasn’t what you could call a traditional nominee - coming to the awards not via the traditional route of local, regional and national newspaper, but via his remarkable Sheridan Trial blog.
A genuinely outstanding example of using digital and social media to follow a single story from start to bitter end, Doleman’s site provided in-depth, accurate and lengthy coverage of each day’s proceedings in the court, along with curated links to coverage elsewhere and analysis of the court battle.
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It offered a level of depth while reporting on the trial which no mainstream newspaper or website came close to achieving - either through space, design and editorial requirements. I suspect none ever will in future, either.
It was, perhaps, the most detailed published coverage of a legal trial in the history of Scots law reporting, and was rightly acclaimed by both legal eagles and hacks alike in the aftermath of the case.
For Doleman to appear on the shortlist represented something remarkable - an acknowledgement by the Scottish Newspaper Society that new media platforms not only exist, but thrive outside the traditional world of the newsroom.
Of course, ultimately the award went to Bev - runner-up the time I picked up the title in 2009 (well, I say picked up - thanks to industrial action and an NUJ chapel boycott, I’ve never actually managed to get to the awards) - for her showbiz blogs and videos at the Daily Record.
But Doleman’s shortlisting will hopefully pave the way for the judges to consider nominations and ballots from a far wider sphere than just the traditional newspaper websites where the awards have been drawn from.
Indeed, there’s an argument to be made that the New Media Journalist award should deliberately exclude a substantial part of the traditional print media. In this day and age, when all papers have websites and most put their entire book online, it’s possible to claim that every journalist with a story online is now a new media journalist.
Surely that shouldn’t be what the spirit of the award is about - it should be to mark innovative journalistic use of digital and social platforms, telling stories in new and unique ways which step away from the traditional print platforms.
An obvious successor to Doleman would be the Rangers Tax Case blog - a venture which has clearly got under the skin of both club and traditional sports hacks alike with dogged reporting and analysis of the financial travails the Ibrox club finds itself in.
Or what about the hyperlocal realm? A site such as the Edinburgh Reporter which, thanks to dogged work by Phyllis Stephen and her small team, has managed to provide a genuine alternative to traditional media within the city - using exclusively online media to cover local news issues.
Or perhaps Stewart Kirkpatrick - Scotland’s only digital newspaper editor (as opposed to newspaper digital editor, obviously) who continues to try and push the Caledonian Mercury, looking to bring credibility and authority to the Huffington Post-style field of digital only publications.
There’s innovation in spades on a national, regional and even single issue basis online, even in Scotland, if you just take the time to stop and look. The nomination of James Doleman showed someone, at least, had the presence of mind to do just that. It’s a shame they didn’t take it further. It requires the sites - or their supporters - to put forward nominations, of course... but it also requires the judges to take notice of them.
Last year the Scottish Press Awards had the chance to something bold and brave, and reward someone not seen as a regular part of the mainstream media. Perhaps unsurprisingly, they bottled out, going for the safe option.
This year, it’d be nice to see them take a genuine risk.