Local paper continues to fail
The local paper Dunoon Observer continues to fail its readers on
the crucial issue of the ferries on which the future of the community
depends by ignoring major pertinent facts, and indeed reporting
uncritically public relations fluff for vested interests.
It carries a front page article today about the performance of
the ferry services over the Cowal Games (if the article goes online
I will update with a link here). It manages to fill several hundred
words that essentially says: "nothing of interest happened".
But it goes beyond simple reporting of promotional guff for the
companies with comment, headlining the services as "seamless"
and concluding at the end "It all worked. And it all worked
What the article (or indeed any other comment by the newspaper)
fails to note was that it was not the new service that succeeded,
it was what was described as "supplemented with MV Saturn"
the obsolete 500+ passenger car ferry that was not even allowed
to do the job it was designed for which was to carry cars. It was
Saturn that scooped up all the passengers that the small passenger
ferries could never have copied with, essentially it was not the
new service that succeeded, it was essentially the old service which
was based around MV Saturn then, and was based around MV Saturn
The service was also very lucky in that the 25mph winds which the
Met Office had forecast just two days before failed to materialise,
had they done so there would indeed have been chaos. Yet there is
not even a hint in the article that all this carries a real warning
for the future, not just for Cowal Games, but for the regular service.
A local paper has lost it when there is an almost total disconnect
between what people are writing to it about, the facts they report,
what they feel is important, and how all this compares and contrasts
with what is observed and analysed by the paper itself.
The irony is that when the paper was published today (Friday 2nd
September) the (Glasgow) Herald newspaper carried a major article
to build new ferries as demand rises" in its business pages.
The Herald at least provided balance here by reporting comments
by me as well about the implications of Western's plans. It is not
just many local people who will be disgusted by the failures of
the local paper's coverage, Western Ferries itself clearly holds
the local paper in such contempt that it did not even bother telling
them about this major piece of local news, now the paper will have
to buy a copy of the Herald to find out what is happening here.
Talk about being behind the curve and having to play catch up. But
if Western felt they would have to cultivate the local paper rather
than taking it for granted, then the local paper might have been
It is not just the local people that will lose out on all this,
but the paper itself. Local papers should have a guaranteed readership
that nationals do not have. But people here will cease to use it
as a reliable source and even those like Western Ferries that have
been using it as a mouthpiece will begin to treat it as wrapping
So what's the alternative? I have already blogged here about "the
silence of the local"
and I suggested that the website "For Argyll" might provide
an alternative source of hard news and comment for issues like this.
But while "For Argyll" had looked a promising alternative,
it has turned out to be little more than a PR front for the local
However, when there are matters of real public interest, there
are now other ways to get news out. The matter which prompted my
January post was the paper's withdrawing from covering the issues
covered in my post looking at the economics
of Western Ferries. Judged on basic economic criteria the ferry
service could be seen as one of the most expensive services, certainly
of its type, anywhere. All this was based on facts, was a matter
of real public interest, and was fair comment. There was every reason
that the paper should have covered this, no legitimate reason why
they should have decided at the last minute to pull out from doing
It is usually the case with posts that there is a surge of interest
in the first few days after posting, then it tails off. This also
happened this time when I posted the analysis in December but then
something unusual happened. The number of downloads of the webpage
came down to a plateau then began to increase again, it is still
is increasing, now well into four figures, hundreds of downloads
of it just over the summer period.
Today if you put
"most expensive ferry service"
into Google.com, the webpage comes up the top hit out of 738 hits.
Take out the quotation marks and just Google
most expensive ferry service
and it was still the top hit out of 3,850,000 hits
Something like this happened with my academic Coase
paper which I out on this website in 2005 and after a slow start
built up gradually until it is now over 2,000 downloads a year,
and still increasing . On a current monthly basis my analysis of
the economics of Western is already the most popular on my website,
more popular than even the Coase paper. So something is moving here.
The answer? There are other means for getting the truth out and
if it has value, people will find it. And while some say that print
media is dead, there is no need for it to commit suicide prematurely.
Neil Kay 2nd September 2011