Behind the Byline: The CommonSpace weekly diary


Find out what the CommonSpace reporting team has been up to this week in our diary feature which opens up the process of journalism and gives you an insight into how we approach stories



“Reporters are chained to their desks” is now a common refrain in media criticism. It’s true. The latest cuts to Johnston press and Newsquest mean the traditional broadsheet newspapers in Scotland will see fewer staff trying to fill the same workload.

When I attended a Tory press launch in Govan on Monday 11 January it illustrated some of these problems.

Setting: I registered for the event at BAE Systems shipbuilding yard. Seven people showed up – the other six were all photographers. The event was originally scheduled to start at 10.30am. When you calculate travel time, finding the specific venue, going through security, that’s a significant chunk of a morning’s work.

Ruth Davidson, Conservative leader, arrived around 11.30am. This was followed by 20 minutes of photos alongside yard apprentices. Some included posing with a large hammer.

Questions: As the only news reporter there, it was easy to arrange a time for a series of questions. I asked about the purpose of Davidson’s visit, criticism of Tory education policy from student group NUS Scotland, and the ongoing dispute over BAE Systems arms sales to the dictatorship of Saudi Arabia.

This produced two reports: Tories challenged by @NusScotland on ‘fees for skills’ proposal #SP16 and Ruth Davidson rejects calls for embargo on “illegal” UK arms sales to Saudi Arabia .

The best journalism provides an audience with new information. All other reports on this press event were compiled by press release, reducing scrutiny of its political claims. Within the current media climate, the opportunities for independent journalism are falling.


Monday 11 January: Contacted Bryan Simpson, Better than Zero campaigner, 9.30am (responded)

Tuesday 12 January: I covered the appearance of ACC Ruaraidh Nicolson at the justice committee and contacted John Finnie MSP; Margaret Mitchell MSP; Niall McCluskey, advocate; Alison McInnes MSP; Graeme Pearson MSP and Murray Meikle all in relation to an ongoing Police Scotland story. All responded within an hour

Wednesday 13 January: Lesley Brennan MSP swearing-in – at 8.30am I contacted Chris Law MSP, Lesley Brennan MSP and Cllr Maggie Chapman. None responded and we didn’t run the story.

Moray Council story: At 12.50pm I contacted Marco Biagi. I was passed on to a comms manager at 13:47, and at 14:13 a statement was released). I also contacted Andy Wightman(responded), Susan Aitken (responded), Cosla (responded), the Rowntree Foundation, Rhondda Geekie (responded), Dr. Angela O’Hagan (responded), Eva Bolander (no answer), Scottish conservative press office (responded), Moray Council press office (responded).


Friday 8 January: I spent some time discussing a story about education in Scotland with an academic in the US and researching the material he sent me.

I phoned the John Kelly of EIS regarding an industrial dispute in Scottish colleges.

Monday 11 January: In the morning I spoke with activists in the Fans Against Criminalisation group. I also spoke with a Rise organiser about a story the following day.

At about 3pm I spoke with campaigner Rab Wilson regarding a continuing story.

Tuesday 12 January: At about 10am I contacted officials in Rise in order to learn details about a story they were to release later in the day.

In the afternoon at around 2pm I was contacted by Jordan Daly from the Tie campaign in order to discuss the Scottish petition commitee’s decision to close the campaigns petition.

Wednesday 13 January: For much of the afternoon I made contact with various individuals attached to the Better than Zero campaign regarding future action. I contacted a Common Weal local group activist involved in researching costs in Scottish academia, and also contacted academics in connection with a continuing investigation.

Thursday 14 January: At around 11am-11.30am I contacted Hope not Hate and the NUS in connection with news of a white power concert to be held in Edinburgh. I contacted a trade union official in connection with the same story at about 2.15pm I recieved feedback late on thursday evening.

I conducted an interview with Better than Zero activists after work hours as this was the only time they were avaliable.

Picture courtesy of the SNP