NOTEBOOK by BILL HEANEY

Ian Bruce is an old mate of mine from great days of newspapers in Scotland.

That was when the Record and the Express each sold half a million copies a day.

And The (Glasgow) Herald and The Scotsman around 120,00 copies each with local weekly newspapers flourishing.

The Lennox Herald was one of the most successful weeklies in the country, professionally judged to be in the top ten.

It made so much money that Sir Hugh Fraser, the owner of Harrods and House of Fraser, bought it to add to his mega rich business portfolio.

The record sales figure when I was editor there was 14,001 and the penetration figure for local households was 78 per cent.

When I started out in newspapers as a delivery boy for Hart’s shop in Brucehill, the Lennox Herald was delivered round the many newsagent shops by a chauffeur-driven limousine.

People queued up to get their hands on a copy on a Friday evening when the workers came in to pay their “tick” bill for cigarettes and other papers they had purchased during the week on their way to work.

That is why I was dismayed today to receive an e mail from Ian Bruce, who was the geo political editor of the (Glasgow) Herald until he retired a few years ago.

Can you imagine the Herald having a geo political editor during these days of austerity, redundancies and cut after cut in salaries and expenses?

No, neither can I.

If a reporter phoned a politician and introduced himself as the geo political editor of the Herald, he would be laughed out the door.

His expenses wouldn’t get him to Rothesay.

Ian Bruce is also a former soldier who served in the Falklands and who has reported from some of the world’s most dangerous countries, risking his life to keep the public informed of what the government is doing in their name.

And holding politicians to account for their decisions in parliament and council offices.

So, I wasn’t the least bit surprised when the e-mail dropped.

Or the fact that it was composed in coarse language more appropriate to the barrack room or the battle field.

He told me: “The bastards at Newsquest have announced they are making redundant four more reporters on The Herald/Herald on Sunday, two sports staff, one job on the picture desk, one journalist from the National, one administrator and four staff on the weeklies.

“The Scottish Farmer magazine is planning to cut one photographer and one member of staff from the editorial team.

“They also propose shedding 40-plus editorial jobs in England and Wales.

“Last one out – and there can’t be many left – leave the lights on and run up an electricity bill for the penny-pinchin’, snot-gobblin’, two-bit, American owner’s ass-lickin’ management f—wits. Beyond angry. 😠

“All proceeds to their American shareholders.  They’re nothing more than asset-strippers.”

This is the company which in recent times bought three local newspapers in West Dunbartonshire and which closed The Herald’s headquarters in Renfield Street and moved the whole jing bang, weeklies and all, to Clydebank.

Helensburgh, Dumbarton nor Vale of Leven no longer have a local newspaper in residence in the area which they are supposed to cover. All these offices are closed.

Maggie Smith interjected on Brucie’s scorching social media thread: “They (Newsquest) should never have been allowed to buy Scottish newspapers.”

But they have been, and not only were they allowed to buy them but subsidised with public money.

The Scottish government has announced a £3m advertising boost in the form of a public health information partnership for newspapers in Scotland.

National, regional and community titles have benefited from the scheme which will highlight the ‘vital role’ played by the newspaper industry in informing the public about coronavirus developments.

Scottish titles will run adverts in addition to those as part of the UK-wide ‘All in, all together’ campaign. The UK government has confirmed that it will continue to run this scheme in Scotland as well as the additional support given by the devolved government.

Kate Forbes, Holyrood’s cabinet secretary for finance said in a tweet announcing the spend: “Scotland’s newspaper industry plays a vital role informing the public on COVID-19 developments and its impact.

“The Scottish government will continue to share public health messages in Scottish papers and on their digital sites.”

Scottish Newspaper Society director John McLellan told the SoE he welcomes the campaign: “The SNS is delighted that the Scottish Government will be investing in our titles and it is recognition of the key role our titles play in communicating effectively with communities up and down Scotland.

“Newspapers are no different to any other business in feeling the full effects of the Covid-19 crisis, but this investment will help ensure that our publications are in a much better place to survive the crisis.

The Scottish Government also recognises that news publishers’ platforms, especially local ones, are vital conduits for companies large and small to market their goods and services as they rebuild in the recovery.”

I wrote at the time: “This is a welcome lifebelt for Scottish newspapers which should have come sooner, much sooner, even 20 years ago when the industry first asked for help to mitigate the effects of devolved government at every level withdrawing advertising from the press and placing it on-line.

“That move was a spear in the heart of the Scottish press, particularly local papers, many of which have closed and all of which are struggling badly to keep their heads above water. Even with this handout, many of them will still not survive.

“Let’s hope the SNP are not hoping for the press to go easy on them and that everyone in the party does not follow the lead of West Dunbartonshire Council and impose censorship on their critics in a bid to close them down.”

That is what has happened to us.

Despite the fact that this week we achieved around 36,000 “hits” in one day, West Dunbartonshire Council and the SNP at every level have told The Democrat they will not follow the usual custom and practice in regard to the relationship between us and them.

They insist we become members of IPSO, the organisation which replaced the failed Press Council, which they have no right to do.

I can’t afford it. My name is William Heaney, not William Hearst around whom Hollywood constructed the billionaire newspaper baron character of Citizen Kane. I don’t have that kind of money.

The SNP smeared me personally when I refused and then told them to “bugger off” when they tried to throw me out of a meeting. They falsely claimed I assaulted two women, which is a scurrilous lie.

They have also withdrawn media accreditation from our digital platform despite the fact that I am an Editor Emeritus in the Society of Editors and an Honorary Life Member of the National Union of Journalists.

And now these redundancies.. We have the American publishers of Scottish newspapers trousering £millions while they relentlessly continue to run down their newspapers.

Les Pickstock commented on social media: “You see it all over where you try and look at newspaper websites. (I look at my old hometown paper) The news content is completely blocked out by advertising.

“It obviously doesn’t occur to the owners that if they don’t have anyone to report the news then all they will have is a cribbed version of the event harvested from the internet and if everyone gets the story from a central source then that is open to abuse of the press by the vested interests.

“A healthy and open press is vital!”

However, there is a cautionary note from the award-winning features writer Cat Stewart at The Herald, where today the circulation is not much more than 10,000 and plummeting.

She wrote: “I’m surprised to see the NUJ saying four reporters [are to be made redundant]. We’ve been told one. Will need to get clarity on that ASAP.”

One would imagine that this breaking news would be of great interest to the devolved SNP government.

It seems however that they are not all that interested in the press, and certainly not in the Freedom of the Press.

FM Nicola Sturgeon has been granted what is beginning to look like a permanent podium on BBC Scotland every weekday lunchtime.

It’s supposed to keep the public informed and up to date on Covid 19, but it has been straying down the propaganda path, including last week the Warm Homes plan, which came out of the blue this week.

At the outset Ms Sturgeon told us the pandemic was above and beyond politics. It was too important for that. There would be no lies or misleading statements as was the usual mode for politicians like herself.

Politicians scoring political points in the debate about this would be overstepping the mark.

The FM has been showing her Nippy Sweetie side by doing just that.

You cannot blame her for though for losing the rag with the blustering Tory leader Jackson Carlaw, who has been the proverbial pain in the posterior, asking odd questions of her at FMQs in his posh, put on, public school accent.

She went over the score however when she breached her pledge to keep the politics out on the street and described Boris Johnston’s approach to the pandemic as “shambolic”.

She suggested the Tories go and take a long, hard look at themselves in the mirror before criticising others.

But people in glass houses should not throw stones. Her own record in this regard – she has been “the great I am”” from the outset – has been pathetic.

Her “if only I had known that at time” and “that was then and this is now” and “these figures are not the same figures as these other figures” responses have been inadequate and confusing in all the circumstances.

The SNP’s £3 million sweetener to media companies like Newsquest who own both weekly and daily newspapers in Scotland is a waste of public money, which would be far better spent on food banks and PPE for frontline staff in care homes and hospitals.

Nicola Sturgeon keeps telling us: “Covid 19 has not gone away, and it may well come back later with a second surge.”

Sadly, she may be right. Far better then to spend the money there than on subsidising and supporting newspaper companies that are already minted.

One comment

  1. 36,000 hits in one day certainly suggests readership traction.

    Quite unbelievable then that the local administration would censor, and be seen to censor a journal with that level of readership.

    Save for the odd fascist or moron most ordinary folks do not like censorship and folks will be forming a view about what is being done to the Democrat.

    Turkey’s showing themselves as the turkey’s, censorship and spin and an arrogance of office is no contributor to re-election.

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