JOURNALISM:  Ellis Watson issues a rallying cry to media industry

By Hamish Mackay in the Scottish Review

Ellis Watson, a dynamic figure who has held a number of top jobs in the UK media, has issued a rallying cry to the industry: ‘Cheer the fuck up’, especially advocating: have a laugh and be braver! Ellis, 75, a markedly thought-provoking character, issued his rallying cry at Press Gazette’s Future of Media Technology conference where he emphasised that making money from news media is not the ‘hugely difficult fight for the golden fleece that some people are imagining it to be’.

His career has included periods in leading managerial roles at Scottish publishing group, DC Thomson, and latterly executive chairman of DC Thomson Media; serving on the board of Menzies Distribution and First Group plc; marketing director of The Sun; chief executive of Celador, the TV production company behind Who Wants To Be A Millionaire?; managing director of Mirror Group Newspapers and chief executive of Simon Cowell’s Syco Entertainment Group.

In his keynote speech to the conference, Ellis pointed out: ‘We can probably accept that the digital revolution has finished threatening media models and now should just excite them. And people shouldn’t wait and listen to luminaries talking about what is the future of news media or what is the future of paid media, because the future of it, without wishing to sound like some sort of contrived motivator, is genuinely in the room.

‘There is something about running or being part of media ownership, providing your shareholders aren’t idiots and they liberate you and choose to really back you to be renegades and dangerous and take decent risks, that should make this a really exciting and emerging time for media… come on everybody, things are great, cheer the fuck up!’

Ellis declared: ‘It’s a really, really exciting, dynamic time. And I think that providing that you don’t get threatened by the dominance of the platforms that are just pervading opinions of shit, and you create or curate at the very least decent quality content and package it and market it in the way people want, it is a genuinely phenomenally exciting time’.

He encouraged shareholders, boards and executives to ensure that their teams find what they do ‘ludicrously fun’, adding: ‘There is something incredibly stagnant about the vexation of the challenges of the industry right now which is going to self-fulfil if you take yourselves and it too seriously… the UK news industry is getting a bit boring and up itself’.

He urged people to ‘laugh at work every day so much that some wee actually comes out of you’. This is especially important, he said, because ‘work is becoming really really boring and sterile and stale. We’re encouraging people to stop remote working and come back to work and be in offices and remember what it’s like to be part of a tribe – and by God in media companies is that important’. Media businesses should ‘stop following what everyone else is doing and do it yourself’.

Earlier in the day, News UK chief operating officer, David Dinsmore, a former editor of The Scottish Sun – when asked about the potential use of blockchain and Web3 technologies to create new revenue streams – said: ‘I remember a former colleague very wisely saying you can spend an awful lot of money trying to get in front of the wave and it’s often a lot better just to wait for the wave to break over you – but you’ve got to be aware the wave’s coming’.

Referring to this, Ellis commented: ‘In the UK media right now there is this really weird schizophrenic state where everyone’s looking at what everyone else is doing… go and make a few waves yourself and be a little bit braver in your own business model’.

It is also important to be braver ‘not just with your business models but with yourselves’, he added, continuing: ‘Again, slightly post-pandemic but certainly post-corporate conformity in a more enlightened world, thank God the bad consequences of bullying, misogynistic, sexist, dangerous, inappropriate and revolting leadership is absolutely rooted out. We need to be careful we don’t also root out adventure, and bravery, and directness and entrepreneurialism as well’.

Scottish journalists in running for SoE’s Media Freedom Awards

Scottish journalists and broadcasters are in the running for the Society of Editors’ Media Freedom Awards. The awards aim to set the benchmark for a celebration of UK public interest journalism and shine a light on the crucial role that UK journalists play in promoting media freedom, championing the public’s right to know, and holding power to account.

Georgina Hayes, of BBC Scotland, is shortlisted twice – in the News Producer of the Year and Young Producer of the Year categories – while Sophie Goodwin, of The Press and Journal (P&J), is in the running for the Young Campaigner of the Year award.

Ian Hamilton, of BBC Scotland, is one of only four journalists shortlisted in the Broadcast Journalist of the Year category, while Conor Matchett, of The Scotsman, is vying with five others for the Regional Journalist of the Year award.

The Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday
 are twice shortlisted in the Regional Investigation of the Year category, and the Glasgow Times (twice), The Courier, The P&J and the Greenock Telegraph are all contesting the Regional Campaign of the Year award.

Recognising excellence across 21 categories including freedom of information, campaigns and investigations, the awards will bring together more than 200 journalists from all sectors of the news media industry for a high-profile champagne reception, dinner and ceremony at the Globe Theatre in London on 9 November.

Dawn Alford, executive director of the Society of Editors, told Scottish Review: ‘The nominees for the Media Freedom Awards not only illustrate the excellence of UK public interest journalism but they also highlight the exceptional courage and determination of journalists, both at home and abroad, to go to extreme lengths to ensure a story is told despite the difficulties, dangers and barriers they often face in doing so’.

Other awards presented on the night will include the International News Media Organisation of the Year title and the Bob Satchwell Award in memory of the Society’s founding director. The sponsors include Camelot, which has supported the Society of Editors since 2001, Cision and Newsworks.

NUJ journalists ultimately accept Reach plc’s pay offer

NUJ journalists at Reach plc, which owns a number of Scottish media outlets including the Daily Record, Sunday MailScottish Daily Express and edinburghlive, have ultimately accepted a pay offer after months of dispute and a one-day strike.

Some 1,150 national and regional Reach plc’s journalists across the UK and Ireland had staged a 24-hour strike on 31 August after rejecting a 3%/£750 pay offer.

Press Gazette reports that the NUJ had agreed to take a new pay proposal from the company to its members in a consultative ballot. The outcome was 55% voting in favour of accepting the offer with 45% against. The turnout for the ballot was 76.5%.

Press Gazette quotes a Reach spokesperson as saying: ‘After much hard work and open communication on all sides, the NUJ has accepted Reach’s latest proposal which, in addition to a proposed annual increase and a host of other important commitments, will increase pay for more than 700 journalists. We are pleased that we have been able to work together to find a way forward and will continue to keep an open dialogue on these crucial issues in the months to come’.

According to the NUJ, says Press Gazette, the new deal will deliver ‘significant pay rises to over 700 journalists, many of whom are the lowest paid staff, and improved redundancy terms and conditions for many members currently in receipt of statutory minimums. Including increases secured in July, it will see pay rise for these workers in deals ranging from 14% to 44% across the specified roles and minimum rates’.

STV Studios confirmed as first client for new BBC Studioworks

STV Studios has been confirmed as the first client at the new BBC Studioworks at Kelvin Hall production hub. The 10,500 sq. ft purpose-built studio in Glasgow’s West End has been brought to fruition by the Scottish Government, Screen Scotland and Glasgow City Council.

Scottish business website Daily Business reports: ‘The project was first proposed in January 2021 and a funding deal put in place last December. It is expected to create 75 jobs as well as providing a boost to the Glasgow economy worth at least £3.5m. STV Studios will produce the second series of BBC 1’s quiz show Bridge of Lies. With three recordings per day, the three-week studio residency will comprise 25 daytime episodes and an additional eight celebrity episodes for primetime. Other production titles have confirmed residencies and will be announced in the near future’.

Daily Business quotes Andrew Moultrie, the chief executive officer of BBC Studioworks, as explaining: ‘Adding to its rich and varied history, Kelvin Hall now boasts a purpose-built studio facility which is future-proofed with cutting edge and industry leading technology’.

And David Mortimer, managing director of STV Studios, points out: ‘Having already transformed part of Kelvin Hall – one of Glasgow’s most iconic venues – into a three-storey prison set for our Channel 4 drama Screw last year, we are thrilled to be the first production company to film at BBC Studioworks impressive new purpose-built studio next door. As a Scotland-based production company, it is important to us that we support the wealth of talent and facilities across Scotland’s creative sector – so it’s a no-brainer that this studio becomes the new home of our quiz show Bridge of Lies. We are delighted to be bringing host Ross Kemp to Kelvin Hall for a busy three weeks of filming’.

SNS Group founder James McCann dies, aged 62

James (Jim) McCann, founder and managing director of Glasgow-based sports picture agency SNS Group, has died, aged 62. He launched Scottish News & Sport in 1988 after a career in journalism.

Daily Business reports that Jim had built the business from cramped offices in the Maryhill area of Glasgow into a visual content creation agency spanning photography, video production and design services across different industries and sectors for 30 years.

The website explains: ‘At the time of its 30th anniversary, Jim said: We have seen a lot together. A world without internet suddenly transformed by three (100) www’s. Digital cameras, mobile phones and laptops, lenses that cost more than a family car, the birth of Google, Facebook, Twitter. Graphic animation, video, 24/7 social media. But what I cherish most is the people I have worked with at SNS, past and present. Strong characters, talented individuals, the odd maverick but above all many genuine human beings. It is a privilege to call so many my friends’.

Jim had fought cancer over the last three years but continued to work – regardless of his ailing health. SNS Group will now be managed by head of operations, Amanda Hoffin, together with Jim’s daughter and business manager, Claire McCann. In a statement, the SNS Group team said: ‘It has been incredibly comforting to see the outpouring of love and admiration for Jim, which is testament to the great husband, father, boss, colleague and friend that he was to everyone that knew him’.

Jim’s funeral is to be held at Daldowie Crematorium on 7 October.

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