In the obituary on Arnold Kemp in The Herald in October, 2002, it was said: “Arnold Kemp was considered by many to be the most outstanding Scottish journalist of the second half of the 20th century, being instrumental in modernising and revitalising both The Scotsman and The Glasgow Herald… In his 14-year editorship of The Herald, his urbane style attracted readership loyalty and reinvigorated what was an ailing newspaper when he arrived in 1981, as it took on the challenge of great technological change… In 1991 (under his leadership), the circulation peaked, record-breakingly at more than 127,000, before the Murdoch-inspired price-cutting wars began.”
Last week, the Scottish Review website ran an abridged version of a lecture given by Kemp in 1996 at Glasgow University – the Stone Lecture – prefacing it with the standfirst: 'An astonishingly prescient assessment of the Scottish media from 15 years ago'. And prescient it certainly is – right from the first paragraph when he points out: “How many of us now, if we wake in the wee small hours, will creep to the keyboard to tap our way into the throbbing electronic world without frontiers?”
Kemp’s lecture theme was the future for newspapers – especially Scottish newspapers – against a backdrop he explained thus: “The rapid development in IT has destroyed the role of the press as a primary source of news, except as a messenger of scandal or disruptive revelation or as a purveyor of what might be called niche news – for example, local news.
“Secondly the commercial pressure on newspaper to maximise the returns of the business have increased to an intensity which may not always be compatible with the public interest.”
While there is increasing speculation among media pundits that it might be best for the Scottish national interest that The Scotsman and The Herald merge their resources, Kemp was not a convert. He said: “Competition within Scotland between The Herald and The Scotsman is crucial to the health of our Scottish national press because it forces proprietors to release resources … yet unless its revenues are sustained, a serious Scottish press cannot exist.”
He ends on a visionary note: “Sometimes I have a dream that the serious Scottish papers will not be driven along primarily by the needs of profitability. I dream that perhaps they might be administered by trusts of the kind that runs The Guardian and the Irish Times. The ethics of these institutions are not to ignore the imperative of profitability and efficiency; they cannot be ignored.
“But shareholders do not take first place in the scheme of things; that primacy is given to the newspapers themselves. That, I think, is as it should be.”
Kemp ended his distinguished career at The Observer, as foreign news editor, Scottish columnist and a leader writer.
Interestingly, his daughter, Jackie, who is freelance journalist and writer, is building up an Arnold Kemp Archive in memory of her father’s career. On her website, she writes: “In 2012, it will be ten years since his sudden death from a heart attack at the age of 63. In that time, it has become more possible to separate out the more ephemeral pieces from the ones that demonstrate Arnold Kemp's value as a thinker, a writer and a chronicler of his age.
“By the time of that anniversary, I hope to have produced a book of his work, memoir and anthology.
“This archive is very much a work in progress. It will not be formally launched for many months. The compilers would be very grateful for feedback, on what is here or what isn't here.”
She appeals for feedback via firstname.lastname@example.org