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Edinburgh World Heritage/News/An independent reliable press in Scotland won’t come free, say journalists

An independent reliable press in Scotland won’t come free, say journalists


28th June 2020

Rebecca Leary

Are local democracy and the press under threat? This was the big question posed to four leading Scottish journalists at Edinburgh World Heritage’s ‘in conversation with…’ online event Thursday evening, the third in a series of digital events programmed in response to the lockdown. Joined by a lively audience, four Edinburgh panelists were asked to assess the overall health of the press today.

“In a word, precarious,” said Euan McGrory (Print) Editor Scotland for The Scotsman and the Edinburgh Evening News. Panelists collectively lamented the steady decline of advertising revenue from print journalism though Phyllis Stephen, founder and editor of the Edinburgh Reporter, argued that newspapers needed to get to grips more with the digital world. “It’s making that a sustainable business model that’s important,” was the counter from David Bol, political correspondent for The Herald.

When asked about the success of the online paywall at the Scotsman – a potential solution to the loss of print revenue which has become more prevalent across many news sites in recent years – Euan explained that it had been going well. “Will we have to extend it to the [Edinburgh] Evening News? We’re going to have to. It’s a question of when rather than if. It’s expensive, employing people to fact check, to research. People will have to pay for it or it won’t be there.”

There was a lot of support from the panelists for the way the City of Edinburgh Council had been operating over the past year. “It’s a great place to live,” said Euan, “that doesn’t happen by accident, some of that is enabling work by the council.” Both he and Mure Dickie, Scotland correspondent for the Financial Times, also said that many of city’s issues are “problems of success” such as rising house prices and over tourism. However, Mure identified some of his own questions around “the way the council has been able to respond to some of the acute stresses of tourism” and “the very intense debates about development of the things like the Royal High School, which is of international interest. People look at that and wonder sometimes what Edinburgh is doing with its heritage.”

Questions on new development were also put to the panel, drawing admiration for the “local people and their complete fervour in guarding it” as Phyllis put it.

Panelists also tackled the controversial topic of new development in Edinburgh, with Phyllis  expressing her admiration for the “local people and their complete fervour in guarding” their built heritage. For Mure, it was about balance. “My personal view would be that Edinburgh should err on the side of caution, but within that you should make it as easy as possible to do business. One thing I find disappointing is that we haven’t sought to make construction outside the heritage area more distinctive.”

Panelists also discussed the effect of the BBC on local media, and the sustainability of the sector in the face of the corporation’s dominant role. “For most people online it’s probably a trusted source but that’s not to say it’s without its problems,” said Phyllis. David Bol spoke about his two years as a Local Democracy Reporter covering the City of Edinburgh Council for the Edinburgh Evening News, which was funded by the BBC. “It was a fantastic thing they did. Notwithstanding that there is a lot of things the BBC doesn’t help local media with . . . a lot of the content is basically recycled from local news without acknowledgement.”

There was general agreement regarding the negative impact of social media as a source of news. “The original source of it is really important. There’s a lot of poison and danger and misinformation,” said Euan. In response to a comment from Phyllis that social media companies may provide a new source of funding for established press titles, Mure was “cautious about our future in which large American companies are all that keeps the Scottish press from disaster. We need to find other models.”

Bringing the evening to a close, panelists reported a major uptick in the number of people engaging with their content online, and hoped they could retain that relationship to help sustain them financially. “We have shown that we can be trusted to report on these really important issues,” said David. “If people want a press then they need to support us by buying a paper and then subscribing.”

You can watch the whole event for free on our YouTube page. 

Over the coming weeks, we will be hosting a series of on-line conversations with leading local and national figures to discuss some of the issues we face as a city, both during and after the coronavirus lockdown.

Sign up to our mailing list to be the first to hear about our next online event, or visit our events page for more details.

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