In My Opinion: Paul Holleran: The future of local news

THESE are challenging times for local media, whether the established media – such as local newspapers – or relative new-starts, such as online sources of news and features.

Last month, I attended a NUJ freelance branch meeting – in Edinburgh – to hear of some really interesting online initiatives, including Phyllis Stephen’s and Thom Dibdin’s

There are certainly grounds for optimism within local media.

For instance, here at the National Union of Journalists, we have now established a system whereby local newspapers are taking on new entrants to the industry, on a paid basis, under the Modern Apprenticeships scheme, run in conjunction with Skills Development Scotland.

The whole training initiative – with schools and higher education engaging with the industry – has given us more grounds for optimism. Another project of ours – to challenge the position of women in the media – is also taking off, with some constructive debate around diversity.

But there are, of course, concerns also.

Newspaper circulations are, in general, falling, with only a few exceptions. And local newspapers are not immune from that.

However, a number of employers are now realising that, to slow down or stop falling sales, they need to raise their game in respect of quality.

Proper staffing levels and recruitment of experienced journalists is on the agenda during talks between the union and most media employers in Scotland.

At the National Union of Journalists, here in Scotland, our focus is about the quality of the working life of our members, running parallel with the quality of the product which, if successful, should mean better profits to enable investment in journalism.

And to that end, we have organised a conference to take the pulse of the local media sector and to consider its possible future.

We are fortunate to have secured several, very impressive guest speakers.

For instance, US academic, Robert McChesney, from Illinois University, a leading author on the media and promises some interesting thoughts on a ‘citizen news voucher’ scheme.

He is to be joined by Fiona Hyslop, Cabinet Secretary for Culture, Sport and External Affairs; Ian Stewart, editor-in-chief of The Scotsman titles; and Paul Wood, MD of the successful employee-owned newspaper, the West Highland Free Press.

Issues for discussion will include ownership of newspapers, newspapers as community assets and the need to address any democratic deficit as affected by falling circulation and advertising revenues.

Join us. It’s taking place in Edinburgh on March 31. Click here, for ticket details.

Paul Holleran is Scottish Organiser of the National Union of Journalists