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For more than 200 years Scottish journalists have been holding power to account, their reports influencing decisions made on the public’s behalf, reflecting readers’ concerns and often changing lives for the better.
This year’s Scottish Press Awards once again celebrated the best of what goes on every day in every newsroom, where journalists strive to tell their communities what is going on and, crucially, what should be going on.
In particular, the awards for the best campaigns illustrate how newspapers focus on issues the powerful need to address. The local campaign of the year went to the Wishaw Press for its fundraising initiative to prevent suicides and the national award went to the Sunday Post for the way in which it demanded justice for the misery inflicted on hundreds of women who had received mesh implants. Making a real difference to people’s lives.
These are all examples of quality journalism, an essential part of open democracy and accountability, and with 90 per cent of all Scottish adults reading a newspaper at least once a month, Scottish news journalism remains as relevant as it has ever done.
But it is now under a greater threat than at any time in the industry’s history, greater even than in wartime when newsprint had to be tightly rationed, and it comes when quality journalism is arguably needed the most.
The explosion of social media and the proliferation of fake news it has created means that that trusted brands with decades of solid service are needed as never before. And as the murder of Lyra McKee in Northern Ireland has shown, it is not just in far-off places than journalists can lose their lives in trying to tell their readers what is happening in their communities.
The breakneck speed of change in the digital age has led very quickly to the dominance of communications by a handful of unaccountable global giants which are draining vital resources away from all parts of the media landscape including broadcasting, radio and advertising agencies. These companies have grown so powerful that even governments find it hard to hold them accountable.
The good news is that both the Scottish and UK governments recognise the challenges and are willing work with the news industry to build a secure future, but meaningful change could still be a long way off. That’s why the UK news industry has this week launched Journalism Matters, a campaign to highlight the good that journalism does.
We know loyal readers recognise the contribution their newspapers make, but we also know there are those who do not value a truly free press and will use any excuse to limit our freedoms.
Yes, journalists make mistakes, but the a robust system of regulation which does not cost the public a penny is in place to make sure those mistakes are rectified quickly so confidence can be maintained, if not enhanced.
Confidence is vital for us all; confidence that power will be held to account, confidence you can believe what you are reading, confidence that someone is there to fight for your community. We have confidence readers will continue to support us and for that we remain sincerely grateful.
John McLellan is a former editor of The Scotsman, Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday.