Between the lines: The future of Scotland’s media

Is Scotland plc out of sight, out of mind when it comes to attracting the talent and funding required to take our fast-growing businesses to the next level?

This question came from a business editor at a London-based daily press title late last year when he was reporting on a major announcement by one of one of Scotland’s top SMEs.

My quip in response was that perhaps Scottish firms would be less out of sight and mind to talent and investors if his newspaper gave a bit more ink in his pages to Scotland plc.

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Touché, I thought. Not to be out-duelled, said editor’s retort was that if September’s referendum went in favour of independence then it would not be unreasonable to expect that Scottish businesses would see far less coverage still in the London-based media.

While I decided to call our little tête-à-tête a gentleman’s draw at this stage, and I have subsequently spoken to senior business reporters and editors who do not hold this view, the point offered food for thought. What it did crystallise for me was the importance of a robust business reporting scene in Scotland, particularly in the event of Scotland slipping down London’s business news agenda, on the basis that investor communities rely not insignificantly on reportage by the fourth estate as they keep tabs on companies and make investment decisions.

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Since the Sunday Times did away with its Scottish business editor a few years’ back, only one London-based title, the Financial Times, has a Scotland correspondent dedicated to the nation’s business landscape. That’s a slightly sad state of affairs, but in the bigger picture should not detract from the quality of business reporting in Scotland and how important our business press is at informing investor communities in the City of London and beyond.

This might surprise a good number of business leaders in Scotland as there is a quite widely held view, and a somewhat erroneous one I would argue, that if you’re not in the Daily Telegraph or The Times you’re not on the City’s radar. A straw poll of City investors and analysts we carried out earlier this year – born out of conversation with said editor – confirms that when a Scottish business is under the City’s microscope, The Scotsman, Herald, Press & Journal and BBC Scotland are some of the very first points of reference.

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As one banker pointed out: “We are in the age of Google search and irrespective of whether an article appears in the Daily Telegraph or The Scotsman it will come up in the search results so it’s the case that it’s on our radar”.

Here’s another factor that goes somewhat unnoticed. On numerous occasions, business coverage in the Scottish press sparks additional reporting in international publications and news outlets. This is increasingly the case now that we have a burgeoning tech scene in Scotland that has started to garner a worldwide attention. So if we assume that the Scottish business press has this degree of influence, it begs the question why some quarters of our business community fail to communicate with a highly rated press corps right on their doorstep? A case of “no prophet is accepted in his own country” perhaps?

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I think there is a conversation that needs to be had here and perhaps this will be touched on during The Scotsman’s conference this Wednesday on the future of the media in Scotland at the Scottish National Galleries.

More importantly, it should be discussed in boardrooms around the nation. While it would be wrong to say that the London-based media don’t play a big part in raising the profile of Scottish companies with investors, I would suggest that the opinion that London-based titles are the be-all and end-all is wide of the mark. What would seem to be a no-brainer is that we, the business folk of Scotland, should be spending a bit more time engaging with (and dare I say spending a bit more money subscribing to) our press titles; all signs suggest it’s in our best interests to do so.

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Nick Freer is the founder and managing director of The Freer Consultancy