My Media: Stuart Goodall, chief executive, Confor

STUART Goodall is chief executive of Confor: promoting forestry and wood, which is headquartered in George Street, Edinburgh, and represents around 2,000 businesses in the sector across the UK.

What are your media habits?

I like to know what’s going on and, as my job demands a lot of travel across the UK, visiting rural forests and sawmills or meeting politicians in London and devolved parliaments, I tend to get what I can, when I can.

I pick up papers (deliberately picking a variety), listen to the radio, watch television and check online.

I need to keep in touch with political issues at Holyrood, Westminster and elsewhere, as well as issues affecting the forestry and timber sector, including exchange rates (UK mills compete hard with wood imports) so I will look regularly at the BBC website and sites covering not only forestry but much broader environmental issues, like Business Green.

Any particular favourite journalists and why?

I have just read ‘Alex Salmond: My Part in his Downfall’, by Alan Cochrane, Scotland editor of The Daily Telegraph. It was given to me as a Christmas present by a Yes activist with a sense of humour, and it has been a cracking read.

While very insightful, it is easy to see why some people thought Cochrane had gone too far and ‘burnt a lot of bridges’ by his searing and sometimes brutal honesty.

I also like broadcaster, Allan Little, and I found his coverage of the [Scots independence] referendum debate on the BBC very insightful and balanced.

I don’t always agree with her but I find that Lesley Riddoch covers a lot of interesting issues which shine a light on issues affecting rural Scotland, when most journalists are solidly focused on the urban agenda and the Central Belt in particular.

I have a lot of time for those journalists who cover the rural affairs beat, like Rog Wood at The Herald, Andrew Arbuckle and Brian Henderson at The Scotsman, Gemma McKenzie at The Press and Journal and Ewan Pate at The Courier, as well as TV reporters like Euan McIlwraith of BBC Scotland’s Landward. Their contribution to the rural debate is often undervalued and these people are a wellspring of knowledge.

To what extent has media become an increasing or decreasing part of your professional life?

I used to consider the media a slightly intimidating place – cynical hacks looking to spin a sensational story, but recognising that the forestry and timber sector is little understood, and often misunderstood, I have jumped in and it has certainly played more of a part in recent years.

I have always understood the need to tell a story that is easy to understand and engaging if you want to get a particular point across, but not in a manner that patronises those who are knowledgeable about the subject. Not always easy, which is why Confor has engaged a former senior journalist as a part-time media consultant for the past five years – and I think the profile of the organisation has risen as a result.

Telling our story to the media is important to Confor and helps reach out to the wider public, but we recognise that we also need to engage directly with our key audiences – politicians and officials, and provide a strong evidence base behind everything we say.

We recently produced a document ahead of the UK election, Delivering Green Growth, which outlines all the positives forestry can deliver. We are taking that message to a conference at Westminster in March, with a government minister, a political debate and leading speakers from industry.

We also organised an event with The Scotsman Conferences last year to discuss the Scottish forestry agenda, with strong political representation.

I am a strong believer that you have to join everything up to transmit a coherent message – conferences, political engagement, evidence-based documents and media.

To what extent is New Media (websites, social networking etc) part of your media world?

Increasingly so. Confor is currently revamping its website,, to try to achieve an appropriate balance between serving our members and informing those outside the sector who want to know more about forestry and wood.

The revamp will also allow us to target website content and provide bespoke email updates to ensure our members get what they want when they want it.

A professional website makes the organisation look professional to the thousands who visit our site every month.

The forestry sector, generally, is beginning to embrace social media and understands that it is a great place for conversations, debates and information sharing.

Our own Twitter feed, @forestsandwood, is developing its identity and colleagues like Andrew Heald, Confor’s technical adviser (@andyheald) are especially good at both sharing information and identifying interesting developments across the sector from a more personal perspective.

On Twitter, I follow mostly politicians and important voices in the forestry sector.

How would you rate the media understanding, and coverage, of your sector?

The media – and consequently the public – understanding of forestry is improving, but still relatively limited.

Forests are often seen simply for their amenity value – places where people walk, cycle or look for birds. There is a much less well-developed understanding of forestry’s role in mitigating climate change and its economic contribution, and the need to bring in income from selling wood to pay for the positive management of the forest.

Forests can almost uniquely deliver for society, the environment and the economy – all at the same time.

Woodlands are great places for recreation and biodiversity, but also have a major impact on climate change as trees soak up carbon and wood products store carbon.

And forestry’s economic benefits are enormous – forestry supports 40,000 jobs in Scotland and adds £1.7 billion in added economic value.

Confor attended the first Scottish Rural Parliament in Oban last November and carried out a survey of delegates to develop a greater understanding of what they thought about forestry.

They all had very specific views of what forestry could deliver – and our job is to explain the very wide range of benefits forestry offers and our media messaging is a big part of that.

We contribute regularly to the Friends of the Scotsman, The Courier and Landward and will be stepping up our efforts to work with local communities and explain the forestry message in more detail throughout this year.

If you were an editor (newspaper, television, etc. state which) for a day, what would you do?

I would have to weave a subtle forestry and timber message into the whole day!

As a relatively unknown and misunderstood sector, with some great stories and characters, there would be plenty of content.

And without renditions of ‘I’m a Lumberjack’ or a single checked shirt in sight.