A Voice In The Wilderness

_46279870_jim_spence_512Scottish journalism is in a wretched state.

It doesn’t matter which particular aspect of it you are looking at; from politics to football it’s all the same. Awful, almost beyond belief.

Over the last couple of years, the circulation figures for the mainstream press have been in a nosedive the likes of which the industry has never seen.

I follow this through the research other people are doing on the matter, particularly Winning Captains over on CQN, who has been keeping a running score on this for as long as I’ve known him.

The year-by-year drop has been precipitous and looks irreversible.

This is due in no small part to us, of course, but it’s also due to the staggering lack of integrity amongst the hacks.

One of the few exceptions to that is Jim Spence, who’s leaving the BBC after 20 odd years at Radio Scotland.

That depresses me.

Before I get to Jim, I’m going to talk for a minute about the Internet Bampots, and this is partly relevent to Jim’s leaving and the way in which he will be rememberd by us all.

I hear and read a lot of nonsense written about bloggers and blogging.

For one thing, a lot of the hacks castigate us for being lazy with the facts and for not putting real time or effort into our musings.

They have a bastard cheek.

The average newspaper article, which these clowns labour to produce, averages about 500 words.

I can’t speak for others, but my own daily average, whether I’m doing blogs, magazine articles or writing fiction rarely falls below 6,000.

Our hacks would go into convulsions if they had to produce that.

They accuse us of making stuff up too.

I find that especially hilarious as a friend of mine, Colin Paterson, has just started his own blog because, as he put it recently, when you’ve spent your time tweeting fake, ridiculous headlines and people can no longer tell the difference between your spoofs and some of the stuff the hacks actually write then that particular game is up.

I often hear about how we don’t have to work with the pressures the mainstream press do, how we don’t have to get the facts right, how we can just write what we want without fear of the consequences.

This one always bugs me because it is so plainly cobblers.

Blogs and bloggers don’t operate in a parallel universe for God’s sake.

Our work is published, in public, where everyone can see it.

Many of them have faced legal threats.

Others have launched their own legal actions, like the one last year where Wings Over Scotland took on The Scotsman in court and sued them.

We are often accused of being cowards too, of hiding behind pseudonyms.

Which in some ways would be valid, except that any number of us, like Phil and myself, publish under our own names and Paul67 has appeared on TV and the radio so often no-one doesn’t know his full name is Paul Brennan.

Other people use pseudonyms because the alternative is often disgusting abuse and smears, like those which Angela Haggerty had to face after she appeared on a late night news show and committed the awful crime of telling the truth.

My own inbox overflows with bile and invective every other day.

Last year there was even a death threat in there, in contrast to most days where there are only threats of violence.

Don’t tell me the bloggers have it easy. It’s crap.

Don’t tell me we have some secret protection which the media doesn’t.

The difference between me and a hack like Jackson is that if something I write offends somebody enough to sue, I don’t have the legal resources of a national newspaper behind me.

We, who take this seriously, have to be more careful than the media, not less.

The reverence we bloggers have for those in the mainstream press who have crawled out on this limb with us is all the more real for those truths, and even here in Scotland there are many more of them than you might at first think.

Our political writers include real gems like Alex Massie, who is about as far to the right as it’s possible for a man to get without a skinhead but whose work is poetic, brilliant and incisive even when he’s absolutely wrong. On the left is the consistently marvellous Kevin McKenna, who I would read even if he was writing about bus timetables.

Oddly enough, in our sporting press the very best are the guys with no allegiances to Glasgow (although I have always admired Graham Spiers, even if you wouldn’t always know it to read this blog!).

They are guys like Stuart Cosgrove (a St Johnstone fan), Tam Cowan (who’s Motherwell credentials are real, and not put on garbage), Richard Gordon (an Aberdeen supporter) and, of course, Jim Spence himself, who’s love of Dundee United is undisguised and passionate.

Yeah, his leaving the BBC isn’t good news, either for the standard of journalism here or for those of us who like a little truth and fact of a Saturday afternoon.

Because Jim is one of the Good Guys, a man who told the truth even when it was inconvenient, at a time when a media who had been united in accepting that Rangers was gone forever were suddenly back peddling furiously, for reasons that have never fully been explained or explored, and denying the reality they themselves had spent months highlighting.

For telling it like it is, like Angela Haggerty and some of the bloggers who have been vilified and abused almost beyond belief, Jim suffered.

He even had to call in the police to deal with the situation.

Yet he never wavered, and why should he?

Rangers “the club that died” didn’t find life again just because the rest of the team at the BBC ludicrously failed to stand by their man, one mealy mouthed press release aside.

Indeed, it made the corporation look small, and weak.

It did our man no harm at all.

Jim Spence has been in the game for years, and his good sense and total lack of bias is one of many things that endeared him to so many of us.

To hear John Brown accuse him recently (in the aftermath of Sevco’s defeat at Motherwell) of being an accomplice to his own sacking, saying the journalist was motivated by anti-Dundee hate, was hilarious because it was so obviously barking mad.

You could almost hear Brown dribbling on his own foaming mouth as he was levelling the charge.

Scottish football can’t afford to lose guys like Jim Spence, those who talk straight, who don’t try to be sensationalists, who aren’t out to bolster their own egos or carve out careers.

His departure will leave a gaping hole that I can’t imagine many of the next generation being able to fill.

He, as much as anyone at the BBC, loved the game itself and he knew his profession owed it more than weasel words or sitting on the fence when the gravest crisis in its history was still reverberating through the air of our stadiums.

Which is why he broke ranks in 2013.

The BBC announced that it was standing by him in the face of the threats, and the BBC Trust “cleared him” after a ridiculous Sevco fan inspired investigation, but the truth is that his colleagues, by and large left him twisting in the wind.

His was a lone voice in the wilderness, even as the abuse piled up.

Not one of them pointed out that all he’d done was state a fact.

None took to the airwaves to call out the cowards and gutter rats who had abused him.

What makes it especially cowardly is that any number of them know this as well as he does.

That it’s an open secret in newsrooms across the country that what they are pushing is a pure and simple fiction – what we here call The Survival Myth – for which they claim an altruistic motive; “marketing Scottish football.”

Aaaah … the greatest lies are those we tell ourselves, eah?

I have not always agreed with Jim Spence, but then I wouldn’t expect to.

When he’s been critical of Celtic I’ve not always liked it.

But then I wouldn’t want to.

If I wanted biased coverage of my club I would watch its own media channel CelticTV which really can produce the most sycophantic nonsense at times.

When I wanted analysis and opinion, Jim Spence was one of the few I trusted to give it.

He brought balance and common sense to shows and debates which had little or none.

To sit, week in week out, whilst Chick Young, a “St Mirren fan” who could barely remember the team line up from one game to the next, defended, often without even the hint of rationale, whoever was running things at Ibrox on any particular day must have been frustrating to say the very least.

To have anchored alongside Jim Traynor, an arrogant preening halfwit, who’s one shining moment was dissecting Gordon Smith on air when he was defending Rangers fans sectarian singing … well that must have made him nauseous.

For that, alone, he deserves the BBC equivalent of a meritorious service medal.

But the reason, as much as any other, why I’ll always love Jim Spence is that he got, early doors, what we’re trying to do here in the blogosphere.

He was promoting our efforts when people like Traynor were sneering at us as an irrelevance.

(Presumably before his famous dummy-spitting resignation article where he blamed us for everything except smallpox.)

Jim understood, and he still understands, what we are all about.

He gets that we labour away on these things, that we take risks publishing them, that we often suffer for it.

He knows exactly what motivates our searching articles and our probing questions.

Indeed, he spoke up for the bloggers on many occasions, and he picked out articles and asked some of the questions we had been trying to get into the public conversation.

With that in mind, I’ve always thought he must have felt the same disdain for many of his colleagues that we did, but he was a professional and never made that public although he often called them out when they were talking obvious nonsense.

He was, and still is, a reader and promoter (in his own quiet way) of much of what we are up to.

It would not terribly surprise me if, in the future, he agreed to appear on podcasts and chipped in with the occasional piece of commentary for some of the blogs.

If he does, his contributions will be as welcome as they’ve always been.

This blog has given the media a kicking over the last three years, and every single bit of it is richly deserved.

Myself and others follow the sporting press here in Scotland almost obsessively, and we write critically (often scathingly) of those who dine on the finest succulent lamb and are happy to get in line for the Kool Aid stand.

Few of them have escaped our acid pens.

Jim Spence is one of the few.

Because he is honest and forthright and decent and was never anything less than impartial and at the top of his game.

I can think of no greater compliment to pay him than this:

He told it like it is.

In an age when few in his profession still remember the fundamentals, he never wavered from that at all.

Thank you for your service Jim.

You will be missed.

Good luck with your next endeavours.

(I’m a full time writer and the support of my readers is what keeps me goingr. If you like what I do, and are able, and want to support the work the site does, you can make a donation at the link. If every reader was able to donate just £5 a year that would keep the site going strong well into the future. Many thanks in advance.)


James Forrest

James Forrest is a writer and blogger from Glasgow, and the author of two books, Fragments and Believers, which are available on Amazon.

4 thoughts on “A Voice In The Wilderness

  • 14 July, 2015 at 6:06 pm

    Well said James. Jim Spence is, indeed, one of the good guys and is most deserving of the respect we have for him and the high esteem that we hold for him.

    His talents will be of much better use away from the lying BBC, whose hypocrisy knows no bounds. They would not know how to spell truth, never mind recognise it.

    Jim Spence, I raise my hat to you, a man who has kept his dignity and honour in speaking the truth. When you praise or deliver criticism, I listen, even when it involves my own club, because this is all we ask of someone. You have delivered in a massive way and I am grateful for that.

    I wish you all the very best in your future endeavours and I hope we have not seen the last of your writings and commentaries.

  • 14 July, 2015 at 7:10 pm

    Are the PCC only there for complaints that have been published in the press ? Can I submit a complaint into what has NOT been printed . I would like to read the Scottish medias explanation as to why there has been a concerted
    retraction of the headlines & reams of paper wasted in the news of Glasgow Rangers demise . Every paper in Scotland carried the obituary on their front page . When was the reincarnation of said football club ? Was Lazarus present ? Other Scottish clubs have succumbed & reluctantly or not forfeited their past trophy successes in order to \’ start \’ again . Why not Glasgow Rangers ? The press in Scotland are cowards for not adhering to their principles . Truth & honesty , my arse .

  • 14 July, 2015 at 11:03 pm

    As someone who is getting on in years (groan),I’ll always remember Jim as someone who told it as it should be.
    The fact that so many Sevconians and so called journos,you know who you are,couldn’t take the truth must hurt like hell the fact that The Quiet Man could outsmart them on a weekly basis.
    It must also hurt that the so called journos and tv media clowns just could not grasp what Jim was saying,yet every single decent minded fan out there,whether they supported Celtic,Hibs,Hearts,Dundee and so forth knew exactly what he meant,is it any wonder that nobody buys these rags any more,jeez,there’s more truth in the Dandy than in the Record or Sun,fact.
    Then we have the likes of Jackson on Twitter giving us late nite titbits,’Big news coming up soon,’ then we get his idiotic followers saying ‘tell us more ,please’ and hang on to his every word,I’ll say it now because I know all you so called journos read James’s blog regularly,Jim Spence is better than Keevins,Jackson,Waddell,Leckie,Young and countless others put together,notice I ommited Traynor,simply because this man will never be a journo,not in my lifetime at least.
    Lang may your lum reek Jim in whatever you do.

  • 15 July, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    @Pat Gallagher – I wouldn’t go holding my breath on any action from the PCC, otherwise my face would be the same colour of the tribute act’s new third strip!!

    You remember the vile headline in the Daily Rangers the day before a celtic-rangers game – the headline was WHO IS HATED MORE – NEIL LENNON OR THE TAXMAN?… I wrote to the PCC about such an inflammatory headline (remember also, that this was around the time when “viable devices”, and bullets were being posted to NL), and to call the response ” a mealy-mouthed apology” would be a gross insult to the International Association of Mealy Mouthed Apologists!!

    You’d get more of a response if you got in touch with Anne Robinson at BBC’s Watchdog TV show!!

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