The first rule of digging yourself into a hole, is that when you’re in one, you should stop digging. The Sunday Herald had dug itself into a hole with its front page the day after the biggest pro-independence rally in Scottish history. Newspapers know the power of a front page, and the Sunday Herald’s front page that day gave the misleading impression that a tiny demonstration of two dozen angry people from the Union fleg bedecked far right was the same in size and influence as a march and rally of tens of thousands of perfectly peaceful independence protesters. From Scotland’s only independence supporting Sunday newspaper, it was a misjudgement.
First off, I need to point out that I am a columnist for The National. The National is published by the same company which publishes the Herald, the Sunday Herald, and the Glasgow Evening Times amongst other publications. However The National is an entirely separate newspaper. Do not throw The National baby out with the bathwater. What goes on in the Sunday Herald has nothing to do with The National, and vice versa.
The indy community feels beseiged and beleaguered by a Scottish media which is overwhelmingly opposed to independence, and which will stoop as low as it takes in order to find some way of attacking it. It’s not a conspiracy theory to point out that Scotland’s media is overwhelmingly biased against independence, it’s a simple statement of fact. The media is supposed to hold up a mirror to the society it serves. Scotland’s media doesn’t do that. In Scotland we look to our media and we see a distorted painting, a landscape of a country that we don’t recognise. That creates a suspicious and defensive public which is not disposed to trust in the media or to give it the benefit of any doubt that is going. We expect better, we demand better, from our only independence supporting Sunday. Sadly that’s not what we got on this occasion.
Of course there is absolutely no justification for anyone to threaten violence against journalists. There is never any excuse for abuse, threats, or personal insults. However it’s also unjustified to use the appalling behaviour of a fringe minority to characterise the behaviour of the independence movement as a whole. The three pages in the Sunday Herald this weekend came across as the paper trying to justify its error by pointing to the errors of others. It was a further miscalculation which has only inflamed an already bad situation. What we need here is conciliation, attempts at mutual understanding, and trust building. That’s not what we got.
Unfortunately all this upset and breakdown of trust comes shortly after the Sunday Herald appointed Angela Haggerty as its news editor. I know Angela. I first met her long before the referendum when we were both writing for Newsnet Scotland. She is a talented journalist. However as her career has progressed Angela has left a lot of angry people in her wake. She has accumulated many enemies, and there are plenty of people within the independence movement who are suspicious of her and her motives.
I’ve defended Angela in the past, but I can’t defend her decision to out the partner of Mhairi Black during a Twitter disagreement about the Sunday Herald’s coverage of the indy rally and its aftermath, an error which was compounded by the hauf-airsed apology that Angela made later. Mhairi’s partner is also a friend of mine, and getting outed by the media was always her worst and biggest fear. Now the two issues, the coverage of the indy rally by the Sunday Herald and the perception amongst some that it was drifting away from support for independence, and Angela’s outing of Mhairi’s partner on Twitter, have become conflated.
The appointment of Angela as news editor of the Sunday Herald was always going to raise hackles amongst sections of the independence movement, and it’s the independence movement which is the core of the Sunday Herald’s readership. The paper ought to have redoubled its efforts to reassure its readers that it remains committed to the beautiful dream that we all share, the dream of making a better Scotland through independence. Instead what we have seen are a series of missteps from a great newspaper, which have sadly only confirmed the prejudices and suspicions that many people already had. Over the weekend what was left of the trust and goodwill broke down.
What we need here is bridge building, the reestablishment of trust. What isn’t going to help is for a newspaper to throw around blame, to draw the wagons into a defensive circle, and to demand that the SNP condemns the bad behaviour of people who for the most part have absolutely nothing to do with the SNP. For many readers and subscribers of the Sunday Herald, myself amongst them, it comes across as a retreat from the newspaper’s fine principles and its fearless decision to stand alone for a better Scotland when no other newspaper would, and a turn back to the safety of the British nationalist consensus which so utterly dominates the Scottish media landscape.
Perhaps as a first step the Sunday Herald ought to reconsider the behaviour on Twitter of some of its own journalists, behaviour which doesn’t help the newspaper. Journalists who use Twitter to call people cybernats and to mutter dark theories that certain prominent people in the indy campaign are really agents of the Kremlin don’t do a newspaper any favours.
I don’t do Twitter any more. It’s utterly toxic. Most of the disputes, fall-outs, controversies, and arguments which beset the independence movement originate on Twitter. All I do now is to use Twitter to publish links to blog articles, a function which WordPress (the platform hosting this blog) carries out automatically. I don’t even need to log into Twitter to do so. I can still see what’s going on on Twitter when I choose to. I can still search for hashtags that are relevant to the day’s news. I’m just not logged in so am not tempted to reply or respond and don’t get sucked into disputes or fights. I can even see the Tweets of people who have blocked me. It means I’m using Twitter, Twitter isn’t using me. Unlike certain people however, I didn’t make a big song and dance out of flouncing out of Twitter, and write anguished articles about it and pick up a nice fee from the Sunday Times only to come back a few days later. I just quietly left. The world of Scottish politics would be a better place if more Scottish journalists did the same.
I will finish off with a final observation. It’s an observation which ought to lie in the realms of the bleedin’ obvious, but yet which seems to have passed the bulk of the Scottish media by. It’s this, when the public loses faith in the media, that’s the fault of the media, not the fault of the public. In turn that means that the remedy lies with the behaviour of the media, not the behaviour of the public. If newspapers want respect from the people, they have to be seen to be giving the people respect. If things are going to change, it’s the media which has to make the first move. It’s over to you now. Let’s see some bridges.
The Wee Ginger Dug has got a new domain name, thanks to Indy Poster Boy, Colin Dunn @Zarkwan. http://www.indyposterboy.scot/ You can now access this blog simply by typing www.weegingerdug.scot into the address bar of your browser, the old address continues to function, the new one redirects to the blog. The advantage of the new address is that it’s a lot easier to remember if you want to include a link to the blog in leaflets, posters, or simply to tell a friend about it. Many thanks to Colin.
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