You may or may not remember that early last year I pointed out the launch of an online Scottish newspaper, the Caledonian Mercury, that aimed to bring a bit more balance to the Scottish media. The Caledonian Mercury is still going, but it feels a bit magaziney and Rab McNeil (Scotland’s finest sketch writer) only seems to have written once since the New Year.
During the same period, another online Scottish newspaper has emerged, with a similar aim but a different pedigree, and a different way of achieving balance. During a Scottish election campaign might be a good time to highlight its existence, if you want to see a viewpoint that doesn’t get much coverage elsewhere.
The Caledonian Mercury is run by established journalists who aimed to bring balance to the Scottish media by being balanced. Newsnet Scotland is run by volunteers who aim to bring balance to the Scottish media by championing the viewpoint that doesn’t have much support elsewhere in the media – that independence could be a good thing for Scotland.
Newsnet Scotland launched as little more than a blog around the same time as the Caledonian Mercury, but it’s grown over time, to the point that now, I hate to say it, but in some ways it’s starting to feel more like a professional newspaper than the one run by journalists.
There are generally about five main news stories a day, with a collection of shorter snippets. The stories are almost exclusively from a nationalist viewpoint, but they are often written by people who are well informed on their subject matter. Law and economics seem to have particular champions. There are occasional articles in Scots or Gaelic, often internationalist in their scope – the main headline as I write is a story in Gaelic about M. Sarkozy’s prospects in the next French election. There has been a major – and sporadically continuing – series of articles about the history of language in Scotland. There have been articles written by leaders of two of Scotland’s political parties, the SNP and the Greens; apparently the unionist parties have been offered the same platform but turned it down.
And there’s Newsnet Scotland’s big problem. From the content of the comments, it’s pretty much preaching to the converted. Although that means they generally remain quite thoughtful and don’t descend into the slanging matches seen elsewhere, Newsnet remains, so far, a monoculture.
Unfortunately, an alternative viewpoint from volunteers who tend to be of a particular political persuasion doesn’t have – and isn’t going to get – many friends in the well-established media, or among the political parties that quite like things the way they are. Other newspapers have no motivation to mention their competitor, and any mention of Newsnet Scotland is instantly blocked by the BBC’s profanity filters; probably due (in my view) to over-zealous supporters spamming the comments, since I don’t believe Newsnet Scotland itself breaches any of the BBC’s guidelines, but more paranoid conclusions are possible.
I have to say I started off sceptical, but I think Newsnet Scotland’s growth in content and quality deserves recognition. If you want a balanced view of politics in Scotland, Newsnet Scotland won’t give it to you, in the same way that neither the Guardian nor the Telegraph would for the UK – but it should be on your list.
(Also a quick mention here, since I’m unlikely to write about it specially, for an online newspaper ForArgyll, also run by volunteers, that seems to be doing quite a good job of news coverage in Argyll, beating what I recall of the local papers quite comprehensively.)