Pauline McNeill: Radical thinking is needed to protect quality journalism

ON THEIR 18th birthday, teenagers should receive a free year-long subscription to their favourite newspaper. This is one of the ideas I want the Scottish Government to consider as part of a radical plan to help protect quality journalism.

We need to act because the newspaper industry is facing the biggest crisis in its history.

According to the National Union of Journalists, 2,000 jobs have been lost in recent months across print and broadcasting. Whole divisions of good, hard-working journalists with local knowledge are being sacked and expertise lost.

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In Scotland, we have one of the most competitive markets on the planet, with 17 daily newspapers printed for a population of five million. But the circulation of virtually all newspapers is falling and profits are down.

The growth of the internet has also hit advertising badly.

When you take readers and advertisers who were already moving away from print and add a steep recession, you've got serious trouble. A look across the Atlantic should cause anyone who loves newspapers to shudder. The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune are bankrupt. Major American cities are facing the very real prospect of newspapers closing down. We cannot allow the same thing to happen here. As a politician, I don't want government without scrutiny from the press.

Unfortunately, the SNP government seems intent on driving Scottish newspapers towards their final deadline. Finance secretary John Swinney has announced plans that would allow local councils to publish public notices on the internet instead of in newspapers. In July, Westminster's Scottish affairs select committee concluded that if councils withdrew advertising from their local papers it could cost them 10 million.

It will also undermine democracy because many of the most vulnerable in our society do not have access to broadband.

I believe we need some positive ideas to protect the role that newspapers play as an essential part of Scotland's democratic, artistic and popular culture.

France, has introduced a package of measures to help the beleaguered press. They include the offer of a free daily newspaper for every 18-year-old.

Less controversial are proposals to put young people into newsrooms to help make editorial content more relevant and introduce a daily newspaper reading period in schools to help create a habit of regular reading.

The unprecedented emergency facing the Scottish media means we should consider similar proposals here to introduce young people to newspapers, so they become long-term readers.

• Pauline McNeill is Scottish Labour's culture spokesperson