Duncan Thorp: Building Scotland's social enterprise media

Making media work in the public interest, writes Duncan Thorp

A copy of the Scotsman in 1984. The Scottish media industry is broader now than it's ever been. Picture: Lisa Ferguson
A copy of the Scotsman in 1984. The Scottish media industry is broader now than it's ever been. Picture: Lisa Ferguson

It’s easy to forget that Scotland benefits from a rich diversity of media platforms. From the many national and local newspapers, to public and private broadcasters, opinion blogs, social media and online news sites. We’re fortunate to have one of the most open media landscapes in the world.

As in many other sectors of the economy, social enterprise is making inroads here too. Working alongside and complementing the traditional media, they’re already having an impact and giving a voice to different groups of people. They’re also helping raise the profile of innovative organisations like their fellow social enterprises, allowing people across Scotland to discover fresh ways of thinking and working.

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Calum Macdonald is co-founder of Positively Scottish, a new social enterprise online magazine, dedicated to telling positive stories about ordinary Scots, at home and abroad: “We set up Positively Scottish as an alternative online platform, to help ensure that inspiring, positive stories are told, all written by trained freelance journalists. Our aim is to provide some useful employment and promote the work of individuals and groups who might otherwise go ignored.”

The variety of new social enterprise media is impressive too. Cosmopolita Scotland, a digital newspaper written in Spanish and English, carries thought-provoking articles, with the aim of achieving social change.

Jordi Albacete is managing director: “We decided to constitute Cosmopolita Scotland as an innovative social business, because we wanted to promote cultural integration. By delivering positive and independent journalism we empower people to take action and challenge their cultural boundaries. We hope to build a bridge of mutual understanding and cooperation.

“Our multicultural newspaper is also a charity, with a remit to deliver social impact and public benefit for the people of Scotland and Spanish-speaking immigrants. We know that negative news often sells more – but we also know that negative news helps to frustrate and disengage the public.”

Social enterprise covers many different forms, all united under the umbrella of achieving positive change for people and planet. It includes enterprising charities, credit unions, housing associations, social firms and more, as well as distinct models like co-operatives and mutuals.

Rachel Hamada is journalist director at The Ferret, a journalist and reader-owned co-op focused on public interest journalism, reporting on topics such as fracking, refugee rights and surveillance: “The Ferret deliberately chose a co-operative structure as it allows our readers to become more than passive recipients of our stories. They’re part-owners of the project, they receive quarterly transparency reports that show how their cash has been spent and they genuinely wield editorial influence.

“We’re independently regulated, and with no shareholders to pay or advertisers to please, we believe The Ferret is more accountable, transparent and independent. With the help of our subscribers we’re moving down the road toward long-term sustainability but to scale quickly we need more people to back us.”

There are longer established media social enterprises too, like Ayrshire Community Media, Affinity TV and media co-op. In addition there are those working in the wider communications arena such as Face PR, creative marketing agency BOLD, Graphics Co-op and Transform Creative, all helping build a patchwork of clear and consistent social enterprise messages.

Media co-op makes a difference in the way social justice causes get heard in Scotland. Founder Louise Scott: “media co-op’s ambitious goal is to help Scotland’s charities and public sector communicate better. We set up media co-op to offer our skills in film, animation, web and social media.”

Media co-op member, Lucinda Broadbent, says: “After years working in television, media co-op feels like a breath of fresh air. As co-owners of the company, we’re free to work only on projects with a social benefit. It means the work we do every day to earn our living feels worthwhile. What could be more rewarding?”

There are many challenges for all forms of media in Scotland both new and traditional. However, emerging social enterprise and other forms of media can work successfully alongside our established media outlets. We can then begin to see new ways of working together to invigorate public debate, give a platform for new ideas and ensure that our media always works in the public interest.

• Duncan Thorp is policy and communications officer with Social Enterprise Scotland, www.socialenterprisescotland.org.uk