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  • Ian Ritchie : Business AM

Let's close this sad chapter and get back to business

As new economic challenges loom, Scotland needs quality journalism more than ever

BEING in the technology business, I get used to explaining to journalists the ups and downs of our industry. These days, of course, its mostly the downs that need to be analysed and reported.

But the market for technology business journalism itself is rapidly following the technology market into doom and depression. Cutbacks, closures and sell-offs have become the norm.

Only a few months ago, serious high-tech players felt that they were not properly informed unless they kept up with the latest issues of Red Herring, Fast Company, Business 2.0, and Upside, while keeping one eye on Wired for the essential buzz about new cultural attitudes. Here in Europe, Tornado Insider became required reading. For Scots geeks, Unlimited broke new ground, and then the team that created it broke away to launch Up magazine.

Under this competitive pressure, the quality of the writing was pretty good, and the stories being reported were dramatic and compelling. Companies felt they had to advertise in these key publications to get noticed.

Issues of Fast Company were becoming so fat, they were beginning to out-bulk the Yellow Pages. Then the Industry Standard was launched as a weekly, booking $160m (£110m) in advertising income and launching a European edition. Red Herring became the fastest growing magazine title in America and switched from monthly to fortnightly publication. Whew!

Not only were there not enough plane journeys to keep up with all this reading, there wasn’t the carry-on baggage allowance to take them with you, not to mention the severe shoulder strain that resulted.

Well, as they say, that was then and this is now. Jason Calacanis, the publisher of Silicon Alley Reporter has closed it down, stating “The story’s over. You can’t have a magazine about unemployed people”.

Upside and Industry Standard have gone bust. Tornado Insider has said it is running out of money and looking for new investment, and the Herring has slimmed right down and gone back to a monthly. Long established large publishing groups such as National Magazines, Bertelsmann, and AOL Time Warner have been picking up the pieces.

So what’s the story here at home? After all, publishing is a key businesses in Scotland.

Well, when the industry being reported is publishing, the coverage gets a bit more selective, and a lot less balanced. If you want to find out what is going wrong at the Scotsman or Scotland on Sunday, you will find it exposed in full in the Herald or Sunday Herald. Meanwhile the Scotsman papers will keep you remarkably up to date about the problems of the Scottish media industry, as long as it isn’t the bit based on Holyrood Road. The expression “Dog eat Dog” springs to mind.

Last week, the Scotsman decided to run a story about Business AM falling short of its business targets. The story was remarkably short of any real information but, to be fair, it was a reasonable piece for their business section. The Scotsman, however, had other news priorities.

The incendiary bombing of a mosque in Leith – one of the biggest UK stories of the day, carried in all the national newspapers and as a lead item in broadcast news bulletins, was moved to page 11 in the Scotsman to make way for the “real” front page news – their speculation about problems at Business AM.

I suppose we should be grateful that the Scotsman carried a piece about business in Scotland at all. For all his protestations about contributing to a more entrepreneurial Scotland, Andrew Neil, it’s high profile publisher, has presided over a total collapse in serious business journalism at the Scotsman titles. Scotland on Sunday, in particular, saw its entire business staff depart, and bulks out its pages with articles from Sunday Business.

Contrary to the current tone on the political and foreign pages, the future has not been cancelled. These days, the Scottish economy is facing both new challenges and new opportunities. It is actually quite possible that Scotland – a flexible, intelligent, politically stable, country – could have significant advantages over other competitive economies in the months and years ahead. We need to get smarter though, and a key factor will be a savvy understanding of what is happening around us.

Now, more than ever, we need incisive, intelligent and professional coverage of business matters, here in Scotland, and around the world. Let’s hope that the Scottish press, even the Scotsman, can rise to this challenge?

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