Skye newspaper switches to online only as virus impacts local media

Local MSP Kate Forbes, who said it was very sad that the West Highland Free Press has had to suspend production

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One of the Highlands’ best known local newspapers has shelved publication of its print edition until June as a result of the coronavirus outbreak.

While calls intensify for the Scottish and Westminster governments to do more to support local newspapers and other regional media, The West Highland Free Press (WHFP) on Skye announced the measure in a front page editorial last week, in which it said the decision had been taken with ‘great reluctance and sorrow’.

After 2,503 editions spanning 48 years, the Broadford-based paper has  furloughed the majority of its staff and is just one of a number of the UK’s smaller papers starting to wilt under the impact of the pandemic.

However, the only employee-owned paper in the UK, the WHFP says it aims to resume publication on June 5 and will have what it calls a ‘limited online presence’ in the interim.

The editorial added: ‘Whatever the future holds, one aspect of life that must endure is the role played by strong community journalism. We believe good reporting and writing, borne out of empathy and curiosity, will always be in demand.

‘We are you – queuing in the Co-op, watching shinty, driving along the same pot-holed roads. In every sense of the term, we are your local newspaper. Until we meet again in the near future, stay safe and look after each other.’

Managing director Paul Wood added: ‘It is regrettable we feel forced into making this decision at a time when local, informed news should be essential but the economic realities of producing a newspaper during lockdown and the almost total lack of financial support for small businesses other than the HMRC furlough scheme have made our temporary closure an inevitability.’

Skye MSP Kate Forbes commented: ‘These are unprecedented times and the work of journalists – to scrutinise as well as broadcast vital information – is needed more than ever.

‘It is obviously very sad the West Highland Free Press has had to suspend production, but I am pleased this will safeguard key jobs and it is my hope they will return in the near future.

‘The Scottish Government is working hard behind the scenes to support all of Scotland’s businesses and I hope this will ensure valued local media can survive the outbreak and hopefully thrive afterwards.’