Actually, while waiting for the Hillswick feeder service I met old friend and neighbour Scott, out walking his dog and waiting for 'da pipper' (the paper) to arrive. Not that Scott has a Shetland accent, being from England via Edinburgh. He likes to watch the traffic queue building up outside our community shop, as people wait for the arrival of The Shetland Times on the post van. In Shetland, despite local radio, an alternative online news service (The Shetland News) and its own regularly updated website, the arrival of the new Shetland Times, in tabloid newsprint form, every Friday, is the media event of the week.
All over the islands you can see vans and cars parked up of a Friday, their drivers hidden behind the full-colour, locally printed paper. First call is always the Births, Marriages and Deaths section, followed by the advertising (which always makes me wonder if the old newspaper habit of putting these on the front page was, in fact, psychologically correct). And then the rest, including one of the biggest sports sections of any weekly, though there are some unusual forms of competition in there ('Laurenson to fore in radio car event'. )
There are around 23,000 people in Shetland, and the Times sells between 11,000 and 12,000 print copies. It's editorial department is well resourced, paid and staffed. It makes loads of money. And it's a good, serious newspaper, independent of tone and, still family owned, very much part of the community that gave birth to and still sustains it.
One of my jobs as communications consultant to Shetland Islands Council is to look at the way we can use the internet and social media to communicate more effectively with the community, and there's no doubt that the likes of Facebook and Twitter, not to mention blogs, RSS feeds and participation in community forums such as Shetlink can provide certain advantages. Yet the ubiquity of the Shetland Times of a Friday morning, in almost every shop you can think of, from bakeries to butchers to ship's chandlers, and its value as an artefact (it's hoarded, re-read, kept, lent) always makes me wonder at those media statistics claiming that local print is on the way out. Not in Shetland. Surely, in an insular but scattered rural community, print will retain its power and value?
Having said that, my bus journey was spent in the company of today's Guardian, unavailable in the islands in print form until late morning. Using software called Calibre, each morning's Guardian is automatically downloaded to my Kindle e-reader, free. It's transformed my day. I no longer buy print dailies, except in dire necessity.
But I still bought a Shetland Times in Malcolmson's bakery this morning, along with a mutton pie and Chelsea bun. Sometimes old forms of sustenance are best.