A media academic has been in Shetland this week undertaking a project in conjunction with this news organisation that aims to engage with school children and the diaspora of young Shetlanders to find how they use and what they require from the media.
Senior lecturer at the University of the West of Scotland, Elizabeth McLaughlin, and Shetland Times Ltd chief executive Colin Grant were at the Anderson High School and Scalloway and Bell’s Brae primaries to gauge the media usage of various age groups.
Mrs McLaughlin said that the project aimed to engage young people “with the value of their own paper” and this was widely recognised by the bairns. She had also found that The Shetland Times remained a key link in keeping youngsters who have gone south or abroad connected with home, even if browsing online content has replaced reading a paper as the main means of contact.
Her project is undertaken in the context of declining newspaper circulations although local papers such as The Shetland Times have bucked this trend more successfully than the nationals.
She said: “The Shetland Times is seen as synonymous with living in Shetland, which is a good thing for the paper – it means it is doing its job. The answer to whether it is important in keeping in touch with home was a resounding ‘yes’.
“This is also about sustainability and keeping the paper going and providing a platform for community news for a long, long time to come. The good news is that The Shetland Times is well respected by young and old.”
She added that although youngsters seldom actually read newspapers unless required to for school purposes, they are more politically aware than previous generations owing to issues like the independence referendum and American elections. But they get their news from social media and phone apps rather than newspapers, which are are “for older people”.
“Not one hand went up when I asked ‘who reads a newspaper?’. As much as that’s a stab in your heart, you have just got to accept that is not what they do.
“But I think the good news about the interviews we did at the various schools is that young people still see the likes of the BBC and The Guardian as credible sources and they still go to credible sources to find stuff”, she said.
The senior pupils were also really insightful and aware of their status as a generation that must have instant news and information at their fingertips. “They want short blasts of news, not reams of words.” But many affirmed that they would become readers as they got older.
The primary pupils in particular were also keen to become involved producing their own media pages and online content in their own style.
But the shift in media usage with far greater reliance on video and other forms of digital content means the next step may be the development of an app to allow easier access to content. This engagement may feed back into greater readership of the newspaper itself, Mrs McLaughlin believes.
Mrs McLaughlin has an extensive background in journalism, spanning “30 years”, and became an editor at the age of 24. Her background is predominantly in local papers – “that’s why a project like this is close to my heart, because obviously I think local newspapers are really important,” she said.
After graduating with a degree in journalism in her mid-30s, she gained her masters at Glasgow University in political communication including a thesis on how local papers engage with the internet. She has spent the last 10 years working full time in teaching journalism and in research.
“That spurred me on to do projects like this, to find ways of getting young people, particularly, to engage with the local paper and ultimately to find a way of keeping newspapers viable.”
● As part of the project UWS students have been speaking to some Shetlanders who now live in Scotland. To see the first video interview, visit shetlandtimes.co.uk today. Don’t miss today’s podcast – an interview with Shetland fiddler Kevin Henderson, who now lives in Norway.