You have to be nice to Uncle Tam

Tom Gordon: Referendum divisions bring home Sturgeon's dilemma |  HeraldScotland

By Alasdair Galloway:

A few days ago I sent a letter to the Herald about Blair McDougall’s piece which they ran at the weekend (to be fair at the same time as a piece by Blair Jenkins).

Whether my letter was worth publication or not, it was one of several I have put in over the last couple of weeks which have ended up on the spike. However, in reviewing the most recent letters I have sent, published or not, one thing became clear. Since 16th August, I had sent three letters critical of something or other written by Tom Gordon. None were deemed worthy of publication. Now, my letter about McDougall meets the same fate. Both of course have in common that they have taken Newsquest’s shilling (or in Gordon’s case, rather more than that). The remainder of my letters concerned letters by other contributors including Loneskie (no less than three times – what a man!) and also comments about GERS after the almost Groundhog Day comments when the most recent edition was published.

The only exception was my letter about the semi-Twitter rant by (Lord!) Andrew Dunlop,

Since then, I have had a quick scan through the last seven or eight days of letters and while columnists are mentioned, this is rare and also tends to be positive (“I agree with Kevin McKenna” – some going there!).

Some years ago, I had a long discussion by email with the late Callum McDonald when he was in charge of the Herald Readers Forum (which was a much better thing then rather than the nest of Unionist trolls which makes it about as bad now as the Scotsman – of course there was Unionist opinion in Callum’s day, but we dealt with each other with respect – even OBE most of the time). Our discussion concerned the new forum rules he was thinking about introducing and had sought my opinion on. We agreed on everything with one exception – how to treat the media. I have forgotten how Callum had worded it, and I am being most unfair to say it read “don’t be critical of the journalist or the paper” (though that was what it meant), but my reply to him was that sometimes the story and the journalist (or paper) really couldn’t be separated from the issue, and that legitimate criticism (eg misleading evidence, no evidence, illogical conclusions etc) could involve the author or the paper. Then again, I was happy to admit, a post that said “So and so is a **** and I’m going to organize a war party to come to your office and kill him” was certainly not.

While Callum understood the point his basic argument was that the paper had an employer’s usual health and safety responsibilities, so I think where it ended up was any criticism of personalities had to be justified and subject to approval. I found this then, and find it now, hard to accept. I mean does Tom Gordon strike you as a delicate flower. Nope, me neither.

The Herald almost certainly likes to think of itself as a forum or platform for debate, but if the scribbling of their journalists is ‘off limits’ (unless you are being nice about them), how can that be? Are writers who cannot be criticised any better than propagandists and is their publication any better than propaganda?

Given the behaviour of some newspapers and other media outlets (most notably the BBC) during the last referendum, many may consider that question pretty pointless, as the answer is obviously “YES”. This leads to initiatives such as my friend Iain Lawson’s “Campaign for Honest Journalism”. In some ways this initiative could be seen as more than a bit naïve. How likely is the Herald to print a letter from “Iain Lawson (Campaign for Honest Journalism)”? Indeed, does it not set him up against most of the profession who either consider that they are honest, or aren’t prepared to admit they are not. Put it this way, they haven’t published anything from Iain since.

It might be said that journalism is a job, one like many jobs where you are told what to do. Charles Graham, who used to write vitriolic anti-Harold Wilson pieces in the late 60s for the Scottish Daily Express, was, I was told, a member of the Labour Party. Graham was doing as he was instructed, which takes the focus beyond the paper to the owner, a picture which is even less entrancing.

The question is “what to do?” If I said, what is the point of writing letters to the Herald which don’t get published any more, is that a good use of time? Or do I keep using my time that way and a few that deal with folk like Stephenson get published, but none that critique the paper itself? Or am I a drama Queen (or King) with nothing really to complain about? I went “on strike” earlier this year (just after New Year, I think) and after about 6 weeks got an email from Drew Allan, the Letters Page editor, asking after my good health (I am sure sincerely) as he hadn’t had a Letter for some time, though he was not soliciting one. I forwarded this to a friend who advised that he might not have been soliciting a letter but he certainly wanted one. My reply drew an assurance that all shades of political opinion are welcome on the Letters page – though maybe not if agin the staff or the paper?

Perhaps some review of the Letters page over the last three or four weeks by others without my personal involvement might be telling. The question is, how much do the Herald welcome Letters critical of the paper, its position, and its journalists? Perhaps a retired Prof of Media Studies eh……. Sorry Media POLITICS could offer a view? Or is it ok to be critical of everyone – all the way from Jill Stephenson, Gerald Edwards and Peter Russell to Gordon Brown – but not anyone on the paper?

12 thoughts on “You have to be nice to Uncle Tam

  1. Using a analogy to describe The Herald and its use of letters
    One could say they are the Ugly sister
    Who knows never to glance upon the mirror,as without doubt it would shatter

    Liked by 2 people

  2. I get the odd letter published in the Herald, but a lot more I don’t. Nothing wrong with that, and I try not to insult the paid staff (many of whom with “opinions” I do not rate) .
    The Herald is missing a trick excluding someone of the calibre of Alasdair Galloway, while allowing the “These Islands Frat Club” daily outings in the letters page.
    Again the Herald advertises itself as “the best opinion, insight, analysis & debate”, while its “voices” are overwhelmingly Unionist and partisan, anti-SNP (a party which wins big in every election) and sadly, often give the impression that Scotland and Scottish public opinion doesn’t matter, either to them or London.
    I have purchased the Scotsman, then the Herald, for 50 years. I truly mourn their sales/journalistic decline and fall, but feel they could do better for themselves, by providing a genuine neutral platform for debate.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. thank you Gavin – you are too kind. I always make a point of reading your contributions which are always well thought out and thought provoking. However, the issue is not caliber, but maintaining an ideological line, or at the very least not allowing anyone to stray too far over that line while maintaining that its all about space available, what folk want to talk about (ie criteria that the poor reader – or letter writer – can never argue with).
      I’m not sure what to do next. Another regular contributor was less than happy at my taking my ball home earlier this year, telling me that many people looked out for my letters and felt encouraged by them (see flattery – never ever fails, does it?). But right now, I dont see the point. Mind you Russell or Stephenson will print something so stupid that I wont be able to resist it.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ” We few, we happy few, we band of scribblers and dabblers”.

        I have repeatedly told my long suffering wife “that’s it–no more letters”. This, after being ignored for weeks, and me sending, maybe two letters every day. But you calm down, get your sense of humour back and send a new “outraged of Ochiltree”!
        We talked for a while about giving the paper up–I subscribe to the New York Times ( a lot less than the Herald costs) and library card’s get you free papers ( press reader).
        Newspapers have to work hard to stay afloat these days, and “Scottish” titles are cutting their own throats by their very obvious dislike of, and bias against, half the Scottish population’s population.

        But I will persevere, and hope your good self (and all others–the more the merrier) will do likewise.
        We can stop when we are a free people or we are all deid !

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Writing ‘critical ‘ letters to almost any ”Scottish” newspaper these days is tantamount to writing a letter of complaint to the BBC – it is invariably ignored or binned !
    It reminds me of so many radio ”Phone-ins” were the caller can make many relevant points /criticisms but is at the mercy of the host who ALWAYS has the last word and can dismiss or undermine the caller’s points without fear of argument .

    Liked by 5 people

  4. Had similar experience recently, when enraged by a ridiculous piece by Mark Smith- however its hard to write an ad-hominem letter without it being dismissed as being merely Ad H, when, as you say, the journo, the sentiments expressed+ the editorial/ownership line are all aligned.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Hello Alasdair
    I too have often thought about how we could obtain a more accurate picture of the letters submitted to The Herald compared to those that are published.

    Back in the early nineties I approached Mike Russell with the idea of arranging for a committee of trusted individuals to be formed. They would inform the public of their existence via The National and invite them to submit a copy their letter.

    Someone could devise a method of categorising them so the the results could be published in the The National in a meaningful way.

    When I browse through The Herald daily and observe, say, Adam Tomkins with Brian Wilson below, and then move to the correspondence pages and, as is the case with me, cast a glance at the author’s names and note those you mention in your article or, perhaps, Alexander McKay, Jane Lax, David Bone et al, I sometimes wonder why am I buying this paper? The anger I experience reading what this lot have to say, ensures that I make sure I read how either you, David Crawford or Ruth Marr or G. R. Weir will respond in the next day’s publication!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. I’ve been a regular Herald reader for over 60 years, but have recently been seriously considering stopping it due to its obvious pro-Union bias. I get it that people of the talent and integrity of Arnold Kemp and Ian Bell don’t come along very often, but the quality of writing and editorship has been in obvious decline for decades. However, the pro-Union bias has become more pronounced, especially since the UK Government’s financial support for the press during the Covid emergency. Given the rapacity of the current UK Gov, I can’t believe that the financial support wasn’t conditional on toeing the Tories’ ideological line to some extent (I suspect it affects the National to some extent too).

      I’ve recently conducted an unscientific, subjective survey of the Herald’s daily content in which I categorised News, Opinion, Letters & Business articles according to whether they are broadly supportive of Scottish Independence or opposed to it, or (increasingly rare) were broadly even-handed in their views. I read papers to understand views from both sides of the political divide and the Herald used to provide a reasonable balance. My informal analysis shows antagonism to/criticism of Scottish Independence to outweigh support by about 4:1 over a week, with the Business section being the only sector showing greater balance, largely due to Ian McConnell’s excellent analyses.


  6. Once upon a time the Herald could have 1000+ comment. Same for the Scotsman. The Indy supporters were deleted and banned. Foulkes protege 1st comment. How did they manage it.

    Now just a unionist troll paradise. Boring. Not worth the effort. Including the annoying adverts. The 40,000 readership in decline. 3/4 supported Independence. Now Clickbait for advertising purposes. A bonus for bogus comments.


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