Impartial, firm and independent, our original ideals remain set in stone
WHAT does a newspaper stand for in this modern world? It's a question sometimes asked both by readers and journalists. As times change do the values of the newspaper also? Does it remain relevant in today's fast-paced world?
From time to time it is no bad thing to remind readers and perhaps even ourselves what our purpose is.
The Scotsman sets out to do just that today in this special 12-page supplement. Its primary role is to underline our firm belief that The Scotsman has a central role as a platform for debate about the issues facing this country.
To support this, inside are details of a series of public meetings which we shall be holding throughout the country this year on topics we know concern you.
We also spell out what we believe and do not believe. When you look back at the founders' statement of 1816, it is remarkable just how much we adhere, all these years on, to their (very modern) original conception of The Scotsman.
We have also asked a cross-section of Scottish society, including politicians, leading cultural and business figures, to tell us what The Scotsman, as the nation's newspaper, means to them. Their answers make fascinating reading.
Finally, unless we stand accused of taking ourselves too seriously, we have asked our columnist Robert McNeil to give his observations about the paper for which he feels he has been writing since it was founded!
It is important readers, and journalists who write for it, are clear about what a newspaper stands for. Here we set out some core values of The Scotsman.
ON 30 NOVEMBER, 1816, a customs official from Edinburgh and a Fife solicitor published a prospectus setting out their vision for a new Scottish national newspaper. The foundation stone of this publication, as envisaged by Charles Maclaren and William Ritchie, would be three straightforward but fundamental values: impartiality, firmness and independence. The first edition of The Scotsman appeared two months later on 25 January, 1817. Now, nearly 200 years later, those underlying principles continue emphatically to govern the journalism of a newspaper that has evolved into a national institution.
Equally, despite two centuries of remarkable political, economic, societal and technological change, the general approach and choice of subject matter espoused by the founders are still faithfully observed.
Maclaren and Ritchie wanted Scottish affairs and interests to meet with "peculiar attention", although British and global concerns would naturally be given due consideration. As a liberal newspaper, The Scotsman would provide a platform for all political, moral and religious views. "News, Foreign and Domestic, which bear upon any great interests or questions, or which are in themselves extraordinary or surprising, will be faithfully given, and occasionally commented on. Discoveries in Science, Inventions and Improvements in the Arts, will be carefully communicated. Literary Works of merit will be introduced to the notice of readers, with specimens and criticisms. Manners and Amusements, particularly those of the Theatre, will receive attention."
In other words, theirs was a very modern conception of a quality national newspaper. The shape of the newspaper may have changed – from compact to broadsheet and back again. There are no longer adverts on the front page. Our hugely successful website continues to expand our readership. But the essence of The Scotsman today remains unchanged.
Every newspaper has a covenant with its readers, and from time to time it is necessary to reaffirm that covenant. With national self-confidence at a new high and Scotland's constitutional future once again at a crossroads, we feel this is an appropriate moment to take stock. What, we are often asked, does The Scotsman stand for? What do we believe in and, just as importantly, what do we not believe in?
Firstly, and most fundamentally, we stand for high-quality, accurate, well-written, informative and useful journalism. That applies to domestic and foreign news, comment, features, business and sport. Impartial, firm and independent, we will provide space for a wide range of viewpoints on major issues of the day. We will favour no vested interest for the sake of it; our judgment of the merits of any particular case will in the final analysis always rest on whether it is beneficial or harmful to Scotland.
Secondly, at present we see no reason for this newspaper to articulate a general on-going preference for any political party, although as our support for the Scottish National Party at the Holyrood election of 2007 testifies, we will not hesitate to give our backing to those we judge at any given time to have the country's interests most at heart.
Thirdly, as a long-standing supporter of devolution and a necessarily critical friend of the Scottish Parliament, we believe now is the right time to review the constitutional settlement. The SNP's National Conversation and the Constitutional Commission established by Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives, in their own different ways, have begun this process, although a single body like the original Constitutional Convention – which closely involved civil society in the conception of the Scottish Parliament – would surely have been preferable.
Having said that, we are not yet persuaded that independence would bring Scotland the benefits promised by its champions. Nor do we believe that support for an independent Scotland is widespread. Of much greater merit in our eyes would be a limited scheme of fiscal autonomy for the Scottish Parliament that would give ministers the responsibility for raising funds through taxation as well as spending the receipts. We will not say "never" to independence; should we come to believe that it is the right course for Scotland's prosperity and good governance we will say so. In the meantime, we will examine the case put forward by the SNP with characteristic rigour and, without fear or favour, ask the sort of searching questions to which our readers would expect answers.
WHILE politics are clearly a core concern of any serious newspaper, what goes on in the corridors of power can often seem irrelevant to ordinary people. The Scotsman has a duty, therefore, to search more widely and reflect concerns raised in coffee shops and pubs, and at dinner tables and leisure centres across the country.
Chief among these is the environment. There is now a scientific consensus that the Earth is heating up, that this is caused by humans and that we need to act rapidly to avert a global catastrophe. The phenomenon has entered public consciousness to a remarkable degree – the fate of animal and bird species, melting polar ice, the construction of wind turbines and demands on us to recycle are all inextricably linked. Yet politicians, especially at UK and international level, have been slow to implement change.
The Scotsman has placed itself at the heart of the general debate over the environment and, in conjunction with the Scottish Government, has campaigned for you, our readers, to take whatever small steps you can to help reduce emissions and potentially harmful waste. We have also been instrumental in getting the government to introduce a proper framework for the care of Scotland's priceless marine environment.
Thousands of you own, run or work for businesses, and The Scotsman is proud of its role as a champion of business. The prosperity of Scotland is dependent on strong and vital financial services, food and drink production, engineering and manufacturing, not to mention tourism and the ever-growing technology, biosciences and energy industries. With the onset of a global downturn, possibly even recession, it is incumbent on us to be a clear advocate for a reduction in the burden on business, whether it be red tape, penal taxation or unwarranted interference.
It is often claimed that there is a contradiction between the promotion of business and the celebration of a pristine environment. Certainly, there can be, but business people do not live in a hermetically sealed world. Which is why many high-profile businesses are busy trying to reduce their carbon footprints. We will continue to argue for business to behave in an environmentally responsible fashion.
You tell us that you are more concerned about crime than many other issues. We will report developments in the tackling of crime and individual cases of concern and interest with vigour.
Education, health, culture and sport, all central to the physical and mental wellbeing of the nation, will continue to be reported on impartially, with firmness and with independence.
And we should never forget that from its beginnings, The Scotsman did not shy away from celebrating national achievement. That commitment to champion and record the country's successes remains as strong as it did back then.
So these high principles of journalism, established in 1816, are what we still strive to achieve every day in 2008. They are the foundation of our work.
We continue to believe, as our founding fathers did before us, that an independently minded, indigenous Scottish press is vital for this country. The headquarters of the company which owns The Scotsman is located in Edinburgh. The newspaper's editor is responsible to the readers and the board of that company, Johnston Press, and no-one else.
Contrast that with the Scottish editions of London-based newspapers. While they may contain Scottish content, the core of those papers cannot do anything other than reflect a London, set of values. A most striking paradox is that English editions of these newspapers can take markedly different approaches on some issues, say the Union, than their Scottish ones on the same day. The arguments about the Barnett Formula and the myth of the Scottish "subsidy" are a case in point. It can be argued that this twin-track editorial is born out of purely commercial considerations, not conviction.
The Scottish indigenous press has no such dual identity. For The Scotsman , the daily task is clear. Beyond the dispassionate, rigorous presentation of our journalism, there must always be the consideration of what is right for Scotland. Sometimes this will not be right for the UK as a whole.
And knowing what is right for Scotland is about knowing what our readers think. We are committed to ongoing dialogue with as many of you as possible. Communications are now easier and speedier; responses to Scotsman stories can be instant. A new audience is coming to Scotsman journalism via scotsman.com.
But we must earn the right to be at the centre of Scottish life. We have to earn that right every day. Today we launch a new series of public debates (see pages 6-7) which will provide a platform for important issues of the day and will give you, our readers, the chance to question those who govern us as well as hearing from those who have opinions on future directions we should take.
We will be doing what a Scottish newspaper should be doing: provoking debate, providing platforms, communicating ideas and initiatives and, when appropriate, fighting with all our might to help achieve progress.
Times continue to change and a newspaper must change with them. The Scotsman has evolved over the years to take into account different lifestyles, the demands on readers' lives, the changing tastes and appetites of society. What will never change is the desire to serve Scotland through trustworthy, inspiring, committed journalism.
We owe it to those who founded this noble newspaper. But most of all we owe it to you, our loyal readers.
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Weather for Edinburgh
Saturday 25 May 2013
Temperature: 5 C to 17 C
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Wind direction: West
Temperature: 8 C to 17 C
Wind Speed: 14 mph
Wind direction: West