My day as a Cub Reporter

25 July 2006

The first day in a new job is always daunting, so I must be some sort of glutton for punishment as every parliamentary recess I arrange seven different day long work experience placements in different parts of Scotland. As an SNP Member of the European Parliament, I represent the whole of Scotland and literally hundreds of issues cross my desk. Doing the work experience is a chance to find out more about the industries I have dealt with. Last week, I was lucky enough to spend a day with the staff of the Courier as a cub reporter to try and find out what makes local press tick.

"We're really busy today" said my new boss Olivia the News Editor as she showed me up to the newsroom, already buzzing with the noises of phones, keyboards, conversations and people talking about layouts and page leads. I was spending the day before copy deadline with the office and they were putting parts of the paper together.

In Scotland we're lucky enough to have some great quality local press, and nowhere in the United Kingdom are local weekly papers as strong or as well regarded as in Scotland. I could see why. As I worked my way around the office talking to folk I was struck by how focussed everyone was on their stories and researching what was going on in the local community.

I was allowed to sit in on an interview with Donald, one of the senior reporters, into a story he was researching, and again I was struck by just how much time he took to really get at the facts behind the story and the background to make it relevant and interesting to readers. Most of the political journalists I deal with barely spend five minutes talking to politicians!

I then spent some time with Olivia looking through the page layout for the following week. The detail with which everything has to be planned was interesting to see, and how the computer technology means that different stories can be formatted and placed in different layouts. Next I was off to a really important job - making the tea! Luckily the kettle was not too complicated and I don't think I poisoned anyone, or if I did they were too polite to say.

A couple of bacon rolls from the transport caff up the road for lunch and I was raring to go and produce my own piece. The day before, I had been with the European Energy Commissioner to the Nigg yard up the road from Inverness to see the massive wind turbines being floated out to the Beatrice field in the Moray Firth. I'd invited him to Scotland to see the massive potential we have in the renewable energy industry - especially in the Highlands. As a Member of the Industry Research and Energy Committee of the Parliament I firmly believe that if Scotland can get it together on renewable energy there are literally thousands of potential jobs for yards like Nigg. So getting the Commissioner there to see it was a coup and merited a mention in the paper, who better to write it up (well probably all the professionals but humour me) than me. I duly produced a couple of paragraphs and e-mailed the story through - everyone was kind enough not to tell me if they thought it was dreadful. Grammar has never been my strong point.

The fascinating thing for me as a politician is always talking to people and seeing what they think of politicians, and politics in general. The European Parliament is often seen as somehow distant, and that is something as a Scottish politician I'm trying to work on, even if there is 5 and a half million Scots and only one of me! This is where local press comes in, and with 8,800 people employed in the press in Scotland we can sometimes forget it is a major employer as well.

I think there is a lot I can do in Brussels to help local media to go from strength to strength, but one of the things I take away from my day at the Courier is how dedicated everyone is, and from my time in Inverness I could see how everyone reads the Courier for local information. I was really grateful to everyone at the Courier for putting up with me for the day, and learned a lot. In Brussels I do not work on foreign issues or even European issues - I work on Scottish issues. After my experience today it's clear that the best way to get information about those Scottish issues back to people across Scotland is through the pages of the local press and that Inverness has some of the best press around.