Alex Bell Remembers…Part Two

We stood outside the office of Alan Bonas, wondering what number to say. The PR boss of BT Scotland, and his team, would prove essential backers to allmediascotland, but at this stage we were trying to get the seed money for the site. Eventually, we proposed a number and Bonas was kind enough to play along. We left the office and cheered. As it happened, our financial worries were far from over.
Allmediascotland grew out of McMedia, a dining club set up by Mike Wilson and others to act as a networking opportunity for media folk. I came along and said Mike should spin the operation out into a website. It was 2001, and everyone was building sites. How hard could it be?
The version of AMS you are reading is the seventh generation, I guess. We thought Alan Bonas had been kind, but the truth is websites require endless changes. It was the equivalent of launching a TV production company with a Box Brownie as the technology moved to High Definition within a few years. Costs would endlessly mount up as the programming tried to keep up with audience expectations.
The trauma of constant re-invention was a problem to us, but a crisis to our core market. Newspapers had bought into websites as an addition to their print operations. Nobody knew that the industry was in revolution. The change would propel big brand names like the BBC and Guardian into a new global market online, but none of Scotland’s papers were sufficiently funded or regarded to become world players. Worse, owners treated The Herald, Scotsman and Record as cash cows for other ventures, and the profits they made were spent elsewhere. Scotland’s print media never stood a chance in the world of new media.
The tragedy was that they didn’t even stand a chance in the old media. Our papers were sweated for profit, with staffing slashed and expectations lowered. When the Sun and Daily Mail got serious about the Scottish market, they stormed into the race. The Telegraph’s edition remains solid, and The Times has become the paper of record for much of Scotland’s establishment. The only oddity is that the natural paper of the public sector, The Guardian, still operates with a single correspondent. The UK titles had successfully ambushed Scotland’s market.
The effect of this was that employment and confidence in the print media in Scotland crashed. Much of AMS’s job has been to chart this change, and decline. It hasn’t been happy, and the world which Spike reports in 2009 is far removed from 2001. Sentimentality is a dull emotion but I do feel genuine regret about the missed opportunity – couldn’t we organise one decent, modern news operation amongst ourselves? Further, I’m not sure the slightly sneering attitude of the UK titles is good for our national well-being.
The P&J and Dundee Courier have weathered the last decade with profits and readership intact. If only they acquired some swagger and attitude, they might represent the future of the industry.

As it is, I think there is a case for an independent trust, started by state seed money, to produce a serious title to reflect our public life, and to act as a control against the dominance of the BBC.
Read Part One here.

Alex Bell is a co-founder of allmediascotland.com. His book, Peak Water, is out this September. His Edinburgh Fringe show, Water Wars, is free at 1300 at The Schop, St Mary’s Street, Edinburgh from August 10-14 and 17-21.

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