In My Opinion: Alex Bell: We need an united news and comment website

WE need a single news and comment website, to ensure that the effort of these times is carried on into a sustainable rival for the mainstream media.

The online community has never looked so strong, but we have to plan for the days, post-referendum. Crowd-funding and subscriptions are bouyant but a single site would make for a stronger economic proposition.

We write with adrenaline now, four weeks out from the vote. The referendum has seen a boom in the nation’s online activity. As the date gets closer, the many sites which have been born or thrived in these exciting times have done well. But, come the 19th of September, how far will that energy carry us?

Of the many stories to come from the modern Scotland, surely the most beautiful is the organisation of a non-party political force to press for reform. It is not a single cry, as there are a multitude of futures we press for, but there does seem to be an unitary energy. The difference of views has not become a division but a strength.

An unitary site would allow that energy to captured as a single economic product, for subscriptions, crowd-funding and advertising revenue.

The architects and editors of successful sites will be cautious of this proposition, averse to giving up control and hard-won revenue streams. For that reason, the unitary site should act as an umbrella beneath which people can be autonomous – think of it as sections of a newspaper, each with their own style and rhythms. The funding can follow the content – the popular bits will succeed, and success rewarded.

There is no need for a single editor, or a common party line. The strength of online is that it needn’t fall into the old tramlines of print and the MSM. If it is a bazaar of contradictions. so be it.

The up-side? Association with existing success will allow new voices to find an audience and everyone to benefit from a potentially larger pot of revenue. That will take us closer to paying contributor fees and wages for editorial staff. We know the truth is that much online activity exists through love and thankless labour. Yet, as I understand it, online entities like Slate or the Huffington Post are able to command real income. What’s to stop Scotland joining the global market place of established titles?

This is only possible because of the nature of our ‘revolution’. The outpouring of thoughts and words has not been about ‘Caledonia the small’, but how we as citizens contribute to the global debate on accountability and governance.

There is an insistent effort by the mainstream media to depict what is happening here as parochial or purely in terms with the rest of the UK. I don’t recognise this, instead seeing a political consciousness emerge which is without borders. Thus our audience is as a wide as the world.

My fear is that adrenaline will dip, either distracted by the consequences of Yes or dosed by the bromide of No. We have the talent, the product and the vision, so what’s to stop us building an unitary site, owned by its contributors, free of the partisan view caught in print?

Alex Bell is a co-founder of More recently, he has been a Special Advisor to First Minister, Alex Salmond. A former columnist on, among others, The Herald, his latest book – The People We Could Be – has just been published (Luath Press).

Pic: Tom Bee.