Full version of my contribution to the Sunday Herald’s discussion on the implications of the job cuts at the Daily Record.
Bruce Waddell appealed to the wider economy as justification for the latest job losses, but the decline in the Daily Record began a long time ago, before the credit crunch, and before the internet really began to challenge the print business model. It’s five years this July since the Sun overtook the Daily Record’s circulation in Scotland. The Sun’s steady rise over a period of two decades, and the Record’s decline, reflected decline in Labour’s core demographic in the West of Scotland, and the fact that Murdoch’s red top was, to be honest, a better product. When News International began investing seriously in the Scottish edition of the Sun, giving it an authentic Scottish identity, the Record had a serious competitor for the first time. It simply hasn’t been up to the challenge, and these job losses are the latest evidence of that. The Mirror in England has gone the same way.
Will the paper’s predicament affect the health of Scottish political culture and debate? I doubt it. The Record will struggle on with a reduced work force, may even thrive with a new business plan. I sincerely hope it does. To lose the title altogether would be damaging to editorial diversity in the Scottish media landscape. But the Record’s political impact is marginal. Its editorial bias toward Labour hasn’t halted the SNP’s rise as the country’s dominant political force. It may even have contributed to it, as readers grew tired of knee-jerk pro-Labourism, contrasting it with the calamitous state of the party since 2007.
More important for the future of Scotland’s politics than the health of the Record is the health of the parties, and Labour in particular. No amount of editorial diversity and dynamism can compensate for a moribund opposition.
I’m watching a lecture by ABC News elder statesman and icon Kerry O’Brien, about the state of political journalism in Australia and globally. A critique, which follows on a book by Lindsay Tanner about the role of the media in ‘dumbing down democracy’, shows that the issue of political culture remains high on the public agenda. More than a decade ago I undertook a ‘qualitative evaluation of the political public sphere’ (Routledge, 2000), and I think the time is right for a re-evaluation. I feel a research grant proposal coming on…
I’ve contributed a couple of articles to a new online start-up called The Conversation. Launched from Melbourne last week the aim of the publication is to provide a platform for independent, informed analysis and commentary on important issues by scientists, researchers and academics. Check out the publication, the first of its kind in the world, and my essay on the problems with media coverage of science, here.
The prospect of a News Corp-Apple iPad-only daily publication selling for 99 cents and called, well, the Daily, is intriguing. Rupert Murdoch regards the iPad as a game changer, while Steve Jobs is reportedly a “major fan” of the world’s last, and greatest media baron. Together, can they create a journalistic product for which people will pay in the same kinds of numbers as they used to pay for newspapers? Can they build an online brand from scratch, as opposed to converting a print masthead for the digital environment? It will be tabloid in feel, but broadsheet in intellectual content, we’re told. What about its politics, though? Will it have any, and will they chime with the liberal bent of many Apple users? What will it do for Apple’s reputation to be so closely associated with such an ideologically committed figure? We’ll see. But if it can combine Apple’s design genius and News Corp’s journalistic instincts, and for a dollar a day, it might just turn out to be the tipping point in the search for a paid-for online model.
Reading about the journalism students at Moscow State University (MGU) who put together a raunchy calendar for President Putin made me think of my visit there in the glasnost era. It was an era of dizzying change, when the totalitarian Soviet was giving way to Gorbachov’s ‘socialist pluralism’, and everything seemed possible. Dean Zassoursky had been a loyal servant of the Party, and a man who did what it took to survive, but he was a reformer by instinct, and was enjoying the moment. The Faculty of Journalism was no longer required to produce propagandists of CPSU-style marxist-leninism, but was now seeking advice from people like me about how to educate ‘objective’ journalists. I was working with the BBC and the UK government’s Know How Fund project on their ‘Marshall Plan Of The Mind’ programme – an unfortunate name, I always thought, with its connotations of victorious beneficence to losers – but Yassen was a gentleman, and his Faculty needed help, and our relationship was good. We remain friends.
So now the the daughters of perestroika, and the journalists of the Russian future, are stripping off to please Mr Putin. Maybe it’s a joke, and if so, it’s a good one…the Russian media are prostitutes, so their journalists might as well behave like whores.