I missed the Cabinet Secretary for Constitution, External Affairs and Culture, answering a portfolio question at Holyrood about establishing a Scottish public interest journalism institute or foundation, but reading Angus Robertson’s reply afterwards there was not much to miss.
The Scottish Government set up a public interest journalism working group in January 2021 which published its recommendations later that year. But nothing has happened with any of those, including one urging the government to set up a public interest journalism institute.
The working group included reputable journalists such as Rob Edwards, one of the founders of The Ferret, and Joyce McMillan, the theatre critic and political columnist of The Scotsman. Ms McMillan was one of the journalists who took strike action recently when the owners of The Scotsman, National World, would not improve on the 4.5% pay increase offered to journalists.
Contrast this situation with Wales – where funding of £200,000 was made available to establish a professional institute. This has led to 10 local news outlets being established. Plurality of media voices is key to holding power to account.
In Scotland it seems that independent news outlets such as The Edinburgh Reporter have to get on with it and help themselves. Perhaps with the exception of the BBC-funded Local Democracy Reporter scheme which works like a news agency and provides useful copy to us and our fellow “qualifying partners”.
We are founder members of The Scottish Beacon, a collaborative news initiative, which is shortlisted for a British Journalism Award. The money behind that comes from the Google News Initiative, not the government. We look forward to hearing when The Scottish Government will do something to help sustain independent news outlets which try to inform their readers, rather than the big boys and their clickbait journalism.