Alex Bell Remembers…Part One

Don’t shit on your own doorstep. That was the advice given when Mike Wilson and I founded The editors and big names didn’t want anyone opening the curtain on the secrets of the media world, and told us so in no uncertain terms. One day I’ll learn to take advice,
but we thought ‘stuff them’ and carried on, anyway.

Two years ago, I sold my interest in Scotland’s best media site to write a book. At the time I promised Mike I’d tell the tale of AMS in a few articles. Finally, with the book finished and at the printers, I’m honouring that promise.

The warning came on the pitch at what used to be known as 'The Scotsman Game', a gathering of random hacks to play football on a Monday morning. The editor of a big Sunday title didn’t want this upstart website spilling the beans on the industry. My mind was distracted by his potbelly and waddling gait. As it was, threats were commonplace and I paid no attention.

A deputy editor of The Herald screamed down the phone at me that I’d never work in this town again. Founding allmediascotland turned out to be an invitation for every hack in the land
to accuse us of dark crimes. Turns out, abuse is the sincerity form of flattery in journalism. All the oaths meant we mattered, and that was good.

We knew things had changed when editors started to ring and email suggestions, or complain that their title wasn’t mentioned enough in the newspaper review we used to run. Suddenly, nobody was worried about the shit on the doorstep, but how much of it they could shovel our way. Mike was in charge of sifting out the truth from the gossip, and he did a good job. To date, nobody has successfully sued a single item on the site.

That’s not to say we haven't had our moments, wrapped in legalese, including a shot across the bows when pursuing one line of enquiry and pressure to make a donation to a charity, by way of an admission of guilt – which we didn't, because, simply, we were right and he was wrong, and we had the physical proof. That particular correspondence began all friendly but soon escalated into stuff about court and possible 'damaged reputations'.

My favourite piece of shenanigans was when a former editor of the Sunday Herald took us for lunch. Over several courses, it became clear he was looking to set up a rival operation. We smiled politely and he left us to pay the restaurant bill.

We knew it was all going to be okay when we became the first website to be given permission to run MediaGuardian stories, and they started taking material off us. From threats on the football field to acceptance by the big boys; it felt good. The only sadness was that as we became established, so did the big story of the age, namely the slow death of our established
media. Tomorrow, I’ll describe how allmediascotland often felt like an Anderson Shelter as the industry was bombed.

Alex Bell’s book, Peak Water, is out this September. His Edinburgh Fringe show, Water Wars, is free at 1300 at The Schop, St Mary’s Street, Edinburgh from August 10-14 and 17-21.

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