The essential role of local media with a genuine journalistic presence in their communities has been emphasised this week by politicians of opposing parties.
The Scottish Conservative party launched a newspaper recovery plan on Monday (29 June) developed in conjunction with the National Union of Journalists and designed to support the long-term future of the industry.
And MSP for Na h-Eileanan an Iar Alasdair Allan has said that the SNP-led Scottish Government is also acutely aware of the cultural importance of local media in post-Covid society.
The Scottish Conservatives’ recovery plan includes additional funding streams, additional Scottish Government advertising spend, rates relief and a journalism foundation to support local media.
Shadow finance secretary Donald Cameron, who is also one of the Highlands and Islands MSPs, said: "A thriving local media is crucial for a well-functioning democracy as people need a reliable source of news for many reasons, not least so that they can hold to account their political representatives. This is just as important at a local level as at a national level.
"Here in the highlands and islands, our concerns are often far removed from those of the central belt and we need local newspapers so that local issues get the coverage they deserve."
Dr Allan said today (Thursday 2 July): “There’s a thirst for information just now like I have never seen before, as reflected in the huge number of people contacting me. Local journalism has a huge part to play in our cultural future.”
The comments from politicians come as the gradual release of lockdown restrictions sees some island businesses back to full operation and others announcing that they will either postpone re-opening or will remain closed permanently.
With a heavy reliance on advertising and businesses stopping advertising, media beyond the public service broadcasters have struggled to maintain their presence and to provide their service.
The Broadford-based West Highland Free Press says that it will return to print from the 7 August edition, after announcing on 17 April that publication would be suspended for the first time in the paper’s 48-year history.
The paper has remained active online during lockdown and announced on social media: “During our enforced hiatus we have been so grateful for the support, both in your kind words and the financial donations you have given to us. We will continue to need this support in the months and years ahead.”
Stornoway Media Centre’s stable of publications, including www.welovestornoway.com and EVENTS newspaper (http://www.hebevents.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/EVENTS_173.pdf), has remained in operation throughout lockdown, aided by a Government-backed bank loan, the Scottish Government small business support grant, the Coronavirus Income Support Scheme and the support of its landlord, Car Hire Hebrides.
welovestornoway.com has had its highest online readership, with more than 51,000 website users during June.