In My Opinion: Allan Rennie: It’s not print or digital, it’s both

MEDIA Scotland publishes the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail, along with 21 local newspapers – stretching from Aberdeen to Galloway – and Business Insider magazine.

Our oldest is the 150 year-old Kilmarnock Standard, and our newest, Edinburgh Now, launched on Wednesday.

The Daily Record was born in 1895 and the Sunday Mail followed in 1914.

Our founding fathers’ mission statement was simple: “Ours will be the task not to furnish a mere dull chronicle of events from day to day, but to give a picture, vivid, accurate and varied of the web of human life as it is.”

The first issue of the Daily Record was notable for the lack of pictures. And a lack of Scottish news. It was dominated by the latest from London and telegrams from around the world.

Adverts in the first edition were indistinguishable from the editorial.

But what really captured my imagination were the quantity of adverts… for the pianoforte.

Although the pianoforte had been about for two centuries, mass production meant that it had become more than a preserve of music halls and millionaires.

The pianoforte was the ultimate in home entertainment. It was predicted that, one day, every home could afford a pianoforte.

Advertising revenues from pianoforte ads were important but, within a decade, they had vanished in the white heat of late Victorian invention.

I wonder if journalists and academics sat round a table over 100 years ago asking how newspapers were going to plug the revenue gap left by the collapse in pianoforte sales?

Nowhere in that first edition was there a hint of things to come – radio, movies, TV and the internet were beyond the imagination of even the day’s science fiction writers.

Even the concept of modern Scottish nationalism would have been alien to our journalists then, who were still comfortable with the term, ‘North British’.

Human nature has not changed since 1895. What people assume to be universal truths, and the ultimate technology, invariably turn out to be wide of the mark.

So I am not making predictions.

The challenge for us, and for democracy, is how we sustain funding for journalism when print pounds are being converted into digital pennies.

I do fear the unseemly haste by analysts and pundits to bury newspapers as quickly as possible, to de-professionalise journalism in favour of mythical armies of ‘citizen journalists’. A lot of the people who predict an early death for print journalism have a vested interest.

We have to deliver the right content at the right price through the right medium and, just as we cannot be slaves to the past, we cannot be slaves to technologic fads. That is what we are trying to do at Media Scotland.

During the last three months we have launched two new print titles in Scotland – Aberdeen Now and Edinburgh Now – and we are planning more.

But the next project will be a piece of remarkable digital innovation, focussed around unique content that will raise the ‘publishing bar’.

And that is the only way forward for newspapers and for journalism.

We cannot be hostages to fortune. From an industry that frankly was freewheeling in the latter part of the last century, we must switch to a state of constant change, innovation and experimentation to accommodate our readers’ needs.

I cannot predict the future but the present is not as bleak as some would make out.

Media Scotland, far from being old media, is Scotland’s biggest digital newspaper publisher, reaching an audience of more than three million a month through websites, mobile and social media.

We see digital audience growth in some areas of up to 45 per cent.

Last year, we sold 91 million print copies of the Daily Record and Sunday Mail alone.

In my mind, however, it is not print or digital but both.

I think it is exciting that the Record reaches whole new audiences on our e-edition, on mobile or on Twitter.

And our journalists talk to a greater diversity of people than at any time in our history.

Our goal is to produce distinctive journalism that is an essential and growing part of our customers’ lives.

We stand for content that matters, content that is relevant and content that you can believe in.

We must ensure our audience understands the value of this content and that we understand the value of our audience.

The greatest enemy of newspapers and journalism is homogenisation. While we have a duty to chronicle events, we must also paint that vivid and varied portrait of the web of human life.

We can do that by not sitting on the sidelines – but by being an essential part of the lives of our readers and our communities.

And the only way we can do that is through professional journalists, delivering unique content, 365 days a year. That is not free and must come at a cost.

If we do not value our journalism, why should our readers?

Allan Rennie is editor-in-chief of Media Scotland. A version of this was presented at ‘Securing Scotland’s Voices: The State of the Scottish National Press in the Digital Age’, hosted by the Centre for Cultural Policy at the University of Glasgow on June 4 2013.