BILL HEANEY’S NOTEBOOK COLUMN

Top picture: Nadine Dorries MP – “a more fair approach and a less elitist and a less snobbish approach as to who works for you”.

Hamish Mackay writes in the Scottish Review today that we should be prepared for some fun and games between the UK Government’s new Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, pictured above, and the BBC in the coming months. Still settling into her new role, she has attacked the corporation for its political bias and ‘elitist’ and ‘snobbish’ approach to staffing, and accused it of not giving a fair deal to youngsters from working-class backgrounds.

Dorries, who comes from a working-class background in Liverpool, and has gone on to become a best-selling author and Cabinet Minister, has warned the BBC that unless it changes its ways there will be no new funding deal from the government. While insisting that she does not want a ‘war’ with the corporation, she suggests it will have to set out how it will change its ways before the next licence fee settlement, which covers the five years from April 2022.

Sending a message to the BBC, when she spoke at a fringe meeting at the Tory Party conference, Dorries declared: ‘It’s about recognising that access and lack of impartiality are part of your problem’. She said that there was a ‘groupthink’ at the corporation which ‘excludes working-class backgrounds … if you have got a regional accent in the BBC it doesn’t go down particularly well’. She explained that it was not about quotas: ‘It’s just about having a more fair approach and a less elitist and a less snobbish approach as to who works for you’.

Dorries feels that the path from a poor background to the top of a career in the media or the arts has ‘completely disappeared’. She pointed out: ‘If you want to do that today you need a double-barrelled name, you need to have gone to a private or a public school, or your mum needs to know someone, or your dad needs to know someone, or you need to have a connection at the BBC’.

Or you could always get yourself chosen to play centre-back for Celtic, who have just such a person in their team at the moment.

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The Lennox Herald, publishing in Dumbarton for more than 170 years, but no longer present here.

UK publisher Reach plc, which owns the Dumbarton Lennox Herald and chooses not to have an office in Dumbarton,  has appointed a team of 14 senior customer editors to cover regions of the UK and Ireland, as well as specialist areas including sport and newsletters.

Hamish Mackay, again reporting in the Scottish Review, tells us the team will ‘serve as the bridge’ between Reach plc’s editorial and customer teams, and be responsible for developing editorial products.

The Daily Record’s audience editor, Nina Glencross, (they never had one of them when I was at the Lennox) will take up this new role in Scotland., which leaves me wondering how much he/she knows about Dumbarton, Vale of Leven and Loch Lomondside.

Non-regional roles include Ann Gripper, who will oversee Reach plc’s national newspaper titles; Helen Harper, who becomes head of optimisation; and Alison Sanders, who will serve as head of newsletters.

Reach plc says the new team will focus on newsletters which generate 50 million page views a month across the company’s portfolio and are a ‘strong driver’ in its bid to register more customers online.

The team will also continue to work with colleagues from editorial and customer teams on a range of other initiatives designed to ‘boost loyalty and engagement’. This includes recruiting a new team of nostalgia journalists, a content testing team and a digital content optimisation team, which again leaves me wondering how much they know about the social history of Dunbartonshire.

Hamish Mackay reveals that Reach plc’s audience transformation director (I wonder what one of them looks like and if this role has anything to do with gender issues), Martin Little, will be overseeing the changes, and he explained: ‘Over the past two years we have built many of the foundations we need for our customer value strategy to succeed. Now we are using every tool at our disposal, including the increasingly rich data coming from the customer team, to help our editors create products and content that turn our readers into truly loyal customers and registered users.

“This new team will oversee the introduction of new data, technology and expertise to help our newsrooms live and breathe the customer value strategy and ultimately unlock the potential that a massive, loyal audience can deliver’.

Goodness me, this piece of self manufactured verisimilitude will no doubt be warmly welcomed by West Dunbartonshire Council’s SNP administration.

Knowing how hedge funds, parliaments and big local authorities work, I would venture that they are just about the same level when it comes providing the actuality – staff being paid off, offices closing and titles being killed off.

Meanwhile, Allan Rennie, who had a highly successful 30-year journalistic career in Scotland, has joined the Independent Press Standards Organisation’s (IPSO) Complaints Committee as an editorial member for Scottish publications.

I am delighted to hear this since Stirling-born Allan, 61, has had a chequered career in the media. He was editor of the Clydebank Post weekly at the tender age of 23  before moving on to editorial roles at The Scottish SunScotland on Sunday, the Edinburgh Evening News and the Daily Record – ultimately becoming editor of the Sunday Mail for nine years before being appointed editorial development director at Trinity Mirror Nationals in London.

IPSO is the organisation which West Dunbartonshire Council insists I need to join if I want to benefit from the services of the council’s £500,000 a year PR operation – the communications team that refuses to communicate.

Otherwise The Democrat is banned and boycotted by these public officials (they are paid from the public purse)  and the SNP administration, led by the infamous, tree chopper Cllr Jonathan McColl.

I must give Allan Rennie a ring to get his views on whether he believes the council and the SNP’s banning of a bona fide digital news platform is merited because The Democrat – like hundreds of other publications – is not registered with IPSO.

The Community Advertiser, for example, which never prints a word of criticism against this basket case council gets loads of council advertising, worth many thousands of pounds to its publishers.

What ever happened to Freedom of Speech?

Allan returned to Scotland in 2011 as editor of the Daily Record and played a major role in steering the birth of the Media Scotland company in 2014 – the result of a merger of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail and Scottish and Universal Newspapers to become Trinity Mirror’s Scottish publishing arm. Allan was managing director and editor-in-chief of the new group’s diverse portfolio.

He left Media Scotland in 2018 and is now an honorary professor of journalism at Stirling University, a non-executive director of NHS Forth Valley, and a member of the Scottish Government’s short-life working group on public interest journalism.

Allan said: ‘Having worked inside and outside the industry, I hope I can use my experience to further advance IPSO’s reputation as an independent, accessible and fair regulator. Championing freedom of expression while protecting the public from harm are not mutually exclusive. And both are key to a functioning democracy’.

Allan succeeds Janette Harkness at IPSO. Janette, a former journalist at the Sunday Mail who worked in senior leadership roles across national and regional newspaper titles, is currently director of external relations at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

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