In My Opinion: Bill Heaney: Scotland’s ‘Leveson panel’ requires weekly input

HAPPY New Year everyone or, then again, maybe not…

Those of you who have come up against me – and you are many – in my 52 years in Scottish journalism will not be surprised to hear I have something to complain about.

My God, you’ll say, that Heaney fellow has made a career out of it.

And my current complaint concerns the panel of experts convened to consider how the Leveson report into Press standards might apply in Scotland.

The names chosen for this panel are fine, even though they do fall into the category of ‘usual suspects’: Ruth Wishart, David Sinclair, Lord McCluskey, Peter Watson and Professor Neil Walker.

But there are no mavericks there. And, importantly, there’s no-one from Scotland’s weekly newspapers.

I used to inculcate into my reporters a sense of pride and encouraged them to progress in their career with the slogan, ‘What High Street Does Today, Fleet Street Does Tomorrow’.

Journalists operating on the High Street kept all their best stories until just before the publication date of their own papers and then flogged them to the nationals.

More often than not, it was weekly journalists who gathered the big stories, the local scoops the dailies picked up on and billed as national exclusives.

So, if someone wants to know how newspapers get their stories and go about their business, then it might not be a bad idea to ask a local newspaper journalist.

And since most national newspaper journalists learn their trade on local newspapers, any inquiry into the modus operandum of journalists should be investigating how they were trained.

Perhaps the people who appointed the Leveson panel should reconsider and appoint a senior Scottish local weekly journalist to it?

And, while we are on the subject, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea if the organisers of the Scottish Press Awards reinstated the Weekly Newspaper Journalist of the Year category.

Don’t, for a moment, assume that the Young Journalist of the Year award is an adequate substitute.

Bill Heaney is an award-winning journalist who edited the Lennox Herald for many years and was a special adviser, on the regional Press, at Holyrood and a media adviser at Westminster. He is now retired but continues to operate as a columnist with the Lennox Herald and a pro bono media consultant to a number of churches and charities.