The Scotsman is Scotland's best newspaper.
- note: this post is the result of a bet I lost with David Maddox last week. My real view is [redacted].
When I pick up a paper I look for two simple things. A good breadth of straight news, and some incisive comment, ideally from various political perspectives. Sometimes I'll also take a look at the back page to see who's gubbed Hearts most recently.
And the news is all there in the Scotsman, from the ultra-local to the international, all played with a straight bat.
The politics, which as you might expect is the section I watch most closely, is scrupulously balanced. If you think you can decipher who the team vote for in the privacy of the polling station, you'd better rely on a lucky guess. The remaining cybernats disagree, but even quoting Holyrood's largest opposition party in a news story makes you a Unionist stooge in this crowd's eyes.
As for the comment, it certainly covers the whole range. At one end you have the exceptional pairing of Joyce McMillan and Lesley Riddoch: for all the latter is missed from the radio, her new free rein perhaps suits even better. At the other end: Gerald Warner. I originally thought he was a parody of the Kirk Elder type, and I was astonished to find out he's real. I remember him saying in 2004 that democracy had failed us, and that we should therefore vote for something else in that year's Euros. This is the kind of stuff I still prefer to read for laughs where possible.
The Scotsman clearly gets blogging, too. The Steamie started as the best collaborative media blog in Scotland, it evolved to allow me and four other compadres some partisan access, and then expanded again to include candidates for the recent Glasgow North East byelection. Elections may or may not be contested primarily online one day, but when the UK General and Scottish General elections are concluded in little over eighteen months it seems likely the Scotsman will have hosted much of the best of Scotland's online political debate.
So, Scotsman journalists, don't listen to the cybernat loonies. You're doing a fine job, despite the pressure to deliver ever more in ever less time. These are tough times for the industry, but Scotland and Edinburgh both need a good independent local paper: you're it.
To illustrate how short of evidence the critics are, I give you this extract from the paper's Wikipedia page:
"The last decade or so has seen the paper replaced by The Herald as the pre-eminent Scottish quality newspaper in terms of readership. "
Citation needed indeed.
Note to Johnston Press, though. If you put up the paywall around the Scotsman, as you have today with the Carrick Gazette and the Southern Reporter, you'll throttle that which makes the paper valuable, and cut your journalists and commentators off from the debate.
The partial paywall already does that to some Scotsman opinion pieces. Whatever trickle of cash that move has brought in, it has kept that part of your content out of the online discussion and reduced the paper's reach accordingly. You let the cybernats rant below the news stories, but prevent the bloggers even linking to the entirety of a comment piece. All wrong.
The company's still making a decent profit, and if you want to protect it there's plenty of scope for other sorts of innovation. I know I'm in no position to criticise, but a more readable and functional website might be a start.
Finally, if you have to put some of your comment behind the paywall, how about Gerald Warner instead of Lesley and Joyce?