In My Opinion: Bob Dow: Reflections on the Highlands and Islands Media Awards

ONCE again, this year’s Highlands and Islands Press Ball and Media Awards underlined its reputation as one of the highlights of the Scottish media social calendar.

But the 300-strong gathering at the New Drummossie Hotel in Inverness at the beginning of last month also confirmed how important it is to have a strong and thriving media presence in our communities, not just in the Highlands and Islands, but Scotland in general.

Journalists and broadcasters from Elgin, Oban, Skye, Stornoway, Orkney, Shetland and all points in between enjoyed the opportunity to meet, catch up and rub shoulders with colleagues from Aberdeen and the Central Belt.

And whilst the problems and challenges facing our national newspapers are already well-documented, the same issues are no less daunting for our local media. If anything, they are even harder to overcome without the resources and financial backing that the major organisations have available.

However, the signs are, in the main, looking good with the awards highlighting some excellent examples of what can be done with limited resources, hard work and imaginative thinking. They also proved that great journalism still matters – a point that some of their national colleagues seem to have missed these days.

Having scrutinised almost 400 pieces of work along with the rest of the judging committee for this year’s awards, I was impressed by the depth and range by many of the entrants, some of whom not only have to be news reporters, but also have to turn their hand to feature writing and sport as well.

It was also heartening to see some newspapers fully embracing digital to keep their readers informed and attract new audiences.

In this respect, the Stornoway Gazette was a deserved winner in the Newspaper of the Year category, not only for its new compact redesign, but also for its excellent videos and for providing daily online reports by its own staff from the High Court in Glasgow at the trial of two men accused of the Western Isles first murder in over 40-years – the only newspaper to fully cover the proceedings from start to finish.

Also encouraging was the strong entry in the Young Journalist category – where Alistair Walker from the community newspaper, Fios, on the Isle of Lewis, was a worthy winner with some excellent, entertaining writing. Indeed, the community newspapers were a major highlight of this year’s entries with Am Paipear on South Uist a stand-out in winning with a wonderful colour tabloid look that would grace any newsroom.

Newspapers such as the West Highland Free Press, The Northern Scot, the Stornoway Gazette, the Highland News, The Orcadian and The Shetland Times have always played a key role in the communities they serve.

That role is going to become even more important in the future as their national and regional counterparts struggle to maintain their influence and readerships. The challenge for our local papers now is not to fall into the same trap.

Bob Dow has worked in the Scottish media for more than 30 years and was formerly the Aberdeen bureau chief of the Daily Record. He is currently working for Police Scotland and has been a judge at the Highlands and Islands Media Awards for several years.

View the winners’ list, here.