Bute loses the newspaper that was at the island’s heart for 165 years

The Guardian, by Kevin McKenna 


Many will mourn the closure of the Buteman. But a former editor says that, like many local papers, it had lost its identity after years of cuts

n era will come to an end on the Scottish island of Bute this Friday with the closure of one of the UK’s oldest weekly newspapers. The Buteman has recorded the ebb and flow of this island community 90 minutes from Glasgow for 165 years.

With circulation dropping below 1,000, its owners JPI Media, publisher of the Scotsman, took the decision to call time. The island’s population is just over 6,000 but, when its only newspaper sells barely 750 copies, it’s clear something other than changing reading habits is responsible.

For Craig Borland, who spent 14 years as editor before stepping down recently, the Buteman had ceased to serve the community. “I loved my time on the Buteman. It was at the heart of this community, reflecting its values, triumphs and challenges. Lately though, it had simply ceased to be a community newspaper.

“The owners decided to withdraw its entire editorial presence from Bute so that it was in the bizarre position of being written and edited by two journalists in Edinburgh.

“The coverage devoted to local news and events diminished each week until it was being swamped by a homogeneous service that left many of its pages indistinguishable from those on other titles.”

The demise of the Buteman is not a solitary tale of a local paper struggling to survive. After decades of cost-cutting by the handful of large companies that own the bulk of the local press, many publications have closed or are down to just a few staff. Yet such papers still hold an important role. Last week the annual digital news report produced by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford found that regional and local newspapers are more trusted than all national print titles bar one (the Financial Times).

Borland is particularly proud of the position his paper took in 2015 with the arrival on the island of refugee families fleeing war in Syria. Some on the island, whipped up by elements in the rightwing nationals, were hostile to these families but Borland penned a passionate editorial welcoming them. It helped allay fears and paved the way for the Syrians’ successful integration into the community.

There is no shortage of news and events taking place on Bute. There are issues over the vital CalMac ferry services and Holyrood’s plan for the Scottish islands. The island is also proud of the achievements of local hero Jane Ross, currently playing in Scotland’s women’s team at the World Cup in France.

Last year the community had to deal with the rape and murder of six-year-old Alesha MacPhail by Aaron Campbell, 16. Angela Haggerty, a journalist and commentator who was born and raised on Bute,“Not long ago the Buteman would have played a key role in the healing process of the community following the murder of Alesha, but not now.

“This is still a vibrant island with many of the social challenges associated with working-class communities. An authentic local newspaper would be at the heart of this.”

Borland recalls the wedding of Stella McCartney on the island a few years ago and the disappointment shared with the national press of a news blackout being stringently applied.

She said: “I once found myself on a London radio talkshow telling its listeners how the island police force was looking for information in connection with an abandoned car covered entirely with baked beans.”

Jean Moffat, the local representative on Argyll and Bute council, is angry at the paper’s decline. “The demise of the Buteman is a great loss,” she said. “I’ve bought it every week for 25 years.”The publisher of the neighbouring Dunoon Observer and Argyllshire Standard has moved to fill the gap. On Friday it announced the launch of a new title, the Isle of Bute News, to ensure that local politicians and officials will continue to be held accountable. It will never replace the Buteman though, or its distinctive masthead.

JPI Media was approached for comment but did not respond.