By Rory Reynolds
ONE of Scotland’s best known television news shows is to be axed after 40 years delivering headlines.
Shocked workers at STV were left reeling after learning they had failed in attempts to win the rights to a lucrative Government pilot scheme to deliver local news content.
They pitched for the lucrative contract in a joint bid with fellow broadcasters ITN and Bauer for the right to supply local news content to audiences across Scotland.
The scheme was originally proposed by the Digital Britain White Paper published by the Government last June, under the title the Independently Funded News Consortia.
Instead a bid made up of rival newspaper publishers and the production company behind BBC’s Question Time will set up replacement provision under their Scotland First banner.
It will be run by The Scottish News Consortium, made up Johnston Press who publish The Scotsman newspaper; The Herald & Times Group; DC Thomson who print the Press & Journal and Dundee Courier; and TV production company Tinopolis.
They plan not only to broadcast news in the slot currently occupied by STV News, but with an additional web portal drawing content from 130 different news sources they own under the banner, ScotlandFirst.
The future of STV’s shellshocked news employees was unclear last night.
However the Scottish National Union of Journalists said there will have to be a crossover in the new service, meaning many could remain in jobs – but face the prospect of having their terms and conditions changed.
The NUJ in Scotland also said it had “major concerns” over newspaper groups handling television news, which must ensure impartiality under Ofcom regulations.
Culture Secretary Ben Bradshaw announced yesterday that the SNC would share £47million with news groups in Wales and northern England to produce local and regional news.
Scotland has received the largest share of the allocation, with the news providers getting £16million plus VAT over the next two years.
The UK government originally invited bids for the Independently Funded News Consortia scheme after commercial stations said they could no longer afford to produce local or regional bulletins.
The government panel examining the bids for the £47million grant said that the Scottish News Consortium had “set out an imaginative and innovative” approach to providing regional news.
They also said that the group had demonstrated themselves to be a credible alternative news provider to the BBC in Scotland, adding that their website would be a portal for 130 local news sites in Scotland.
Ben Bradshaw MP, Secretary of State for Culture said: “This is an important step towards our goal of ensuring choice for people who value high quality, independent local news.
“The funding available to these consortia represents a massive commitment from this government to help encourage the long term sustainability of news in the nations, locally and in the regions.”
A spokeswoman for the Department of Culture, Media and Sport, said last night added that they expected Scotland First to take over from STV news in October.
The Scotland First service will employ 50 additional video journalists across the country, and are expected to operate from the newsrooms of the group’s newspaper titles.
It will also include hyper-local reports, including “News from Your Neighbourhood” and be linked to all of the group’s local websites.
Former ITN boss Mark Wood and chairman of the SNC, said: “We have a unique opportunity to change the nature of news provision for the people of Scotland for the better, and we are confident that we will.
“Our radical plans will stimulate interest and debate around news at local, regional and national level.
“We will build on the proud tradition of independent thinking in Scotland by listening to and engaging with the people, so that the issues and stories we cover are ones which are important to them – we will give Scotland the service it deserves.”
However the decision has been criticised by the National Union of Journalists in Scoland, who said it had “major problems” with the way that The Herald and Evening Times publisher Newsquest treats its staff.
Paul Holleran, Scottish Organiser for the NUJ, said: “It is fair to say I was shocked when I heard the result today, given the difficulties with Newsquest and Johnson Press.
“We have major problems with Newsquest and the way they handle terms and conditions and we will be issuing demands to the consortium for the most robust contracts to be put into place for STV staff.
“The new consortium will be using STV news studios, so there will be a crossover of staff in the new service.
“We have major concerns over editorial quality and editorial impartiality and we want to know, does this consortium know what impartiality in TV news means?”
“Given the experience of STV and Grampian in providing TV news and the lack of experience of those on the consortium, a lot of people would like to see the criteria for this selection process.”
STV news service was first launched in 1972 as Scotland Today’s by its first editor Russell Galbraith, then head of news at Scottish Television.
It was originally set up to mirror the successful Reporting Scotland in style, with two presenters in Bill Kerr Elliott and John Toye.
Later Toye, famous for his wide ties, was to become the sole anchor in a role he performed for 12 years until he departed in 1984.
With its notable Thistle set design, it became the first programme of its kind in the UK to feature signed headlines for the deaf.
It later had an ill-fated trial with sofa led news as part of a revamp featuring the likes of broadcaster Sheena McDonald and Haig Gordon, panned by some for dumbing down serious issues, and was eventually returned to a more straight laced format.
It helped launch the careers of a number of stars including Shereen Nanjiani who joined in 1987, Viv Lumsden, John MacKay, Angus Simpson and Kirsty Young and was named Best Regional Daily News Magazine show in 2000 by the Royal Television Society.
Sweeping changes in 2006 saw a number of redundancies, with Nanjiani signing off after 19 years, alongside Sarah Heaney, Becky Hunter, Alan Saunby and Roddy Scott.
Later that same year it relocated with STV to a purpose built facilities at Pacific Quay in Glasgow and in January 2008, saw its news output split to regions covering east, west and central Scotland.
The same year it lost its contract to supply regional news output for GMTV to Northern Irish based production company Macmillan Media.
Scotland Today aired for the last time on Sunday March 22 last year, to be renamed in its current form, STV News at Six.
The DCMS said yesterday that they expected it to cease providing news bulletins around October this year.