In My Opinion: John McLellan: The upcoming Scottish Newspaper Society conference

EVERY April, Scotland’s leading journalists gather to celebrate the best work from the previous year at the Scottish Press Awards. Amidst the accolades (and the groans), there are snatched conversations with old colleagues and one or two lay the groundwork for their next career move.

It’s the only time the Scottish industry comes together but it’s not an opportunity to debate the issues we face or for those with an interest in the business to rub shoulders with editors and senior managers.

This year that changes, with the first-ever Scottish Newspaper Society conference, to be held on the same day and at the same venue as the Scottish Press Awards (organised by the SNS), on the 24th of this month, at the Radisson Blu Hotel in Glasgow.

Although the awards and the conference are two separate events, in the coming years we hope the two will come together to form one big day of events at which the future can be properly discussed and the recent past properly celebrated.

Given how important the newspaper industry remains to the effective promotion of other businesses and individuals, it’s surprising how reluctant we can be to raise our own profile and the new SNS conference is one way this can be addressed.

Organised in association with First ScotRail, we also want to provide a platform where other groups and individuals can come along and engage with senior newspaper figures about matters of mutual interest.

It’s not as if there isn’t much to talk about. This is a critical moment for the UK Press as a whole, not only with a new minister installed in the Department of Culture Media and Sport, but with the imminent launch of the Independent Press Standards Organisation.

IPSO, the new regulator to replace the Press Complaints Commission, will open for business before the Summer and both journalists and the public need to know exactly how it will operate in practice.

Therefore, we are also very fortunate that one of the key figures in the establishment of IPSO, Lord Black of Brentwood, will be joining us to explain the latest position and to take questions.

If the reform of Press regulation has been fraught with difficulty, so too has finding paths through the digital jungle been tough. But real progress is now being made, with publishers seeing substantial growth in digital revenues.

This is thanks in large part to the revolution in mobile services which is reconnecting the public with the notion that it’s not unreasonable to pay for services and we will be devoting a debate session on the future landscape led by Professor Philip Schlessinger of Glasgow University.

Also joining us will be Scottish Information Commissioner, Rosemary Agnew, for a discussion about open and free access to public information, something of considerable importance to all businesses, not just newspapers.

We will also be hearing from the dynamic chief executive of DC Thomson, Ellis Watson, who has been entrusted by the Thomson family to make sure a hugely successful Scottish institution remains so for many years to come.

And for the future, it would be odd at a time like this for newspaper people not to discuss the political landscape which underpins so much of what we do, and there will also be a keynote political address which is still being finalised.

No-one can deny that newspaper sales are much lower than in years gone by, but, digitally, Scottish journalism is reaching more people than for decades and the place of newspapers in the referendum debate remains central.

So with Press regulation, freedom of information, the digital revolution and the referendum, there will be plenty to talk about over dinner later in the evening when we find out the winners of this year’s Scottish Press Awards.

John McLellan is a former editor-in-chief at The Scotsman Publications. He is now director of the Scottish Newspaper Society.

To find out how you can be there, go to or contact Emma Broll on 0131 557 5767.

Pic: Jane Barlow.