YOU may have blinked and missed it, but trust me it was important. Last week, I noticed a fleeting squabble on Twitter which cut to the heart of a media debate that deserves much greater consideration.

OK, it wasn’t Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos being grilled by the US Congress; but the argument reflected many contrarian views about the state of Scotland’s media. I hope the two participants do not mind me dragging their dirty Y-fronts into full public view, but for the purposes of transparency, it was a brief disagreement between the Scotsman journalist Brian Ferguson and Michael Gray, of the pro-independence new media project Skotia.

Although their disagreements were condensed into fleeting tweets, they were arguing about some of the most fundamental principles of our media, during a period of profound social and industrial change, and what passed as a mere Twitter spat should have been an hour-long discussion show on radio or a documentary on national television.

First up, Skotia is a new media initiative which, according to Gray, is being launched because “we need media that gives us hope at a time when Scottish democracy is coming alive”. It is clearly positioned as a pro-independence and web-delivered project with contributors drawn from diverse passions, including multiculturalism, children’s rights, social justice and LBGT+. Last week it launched a fundraiser via the Patreon platform.

By contrast, Ferguson is a professional journalist and arts correspondent with Scotland on Sunday and The Scotsman, the latter of which was launched in 1817 and began as a liberal weekly newspaper in response to the “unblushing subservience” of competing newspapers to the Edinburgh establishment.

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The Scotsman’s founding principles remain relevant today. Too much that passes as journalism today shows “unblushing subservience” to the political status quo and to the influence that London exerts on Scottish public life.

To be clear, Ferguson’s objection was not to the launch of the Skotia – far from it. But he did take exception to the opening pitch to funders: “The people of Scotland deserve better than a dying press and an intransigent broadcaster.”

The words “dying press” got under his skin and you can understand his objection. The print media in Scotland are passing through horrendous change: plummeting circulation, downsizing, redundancies, limited resources, and having to deal with distant owners who are often tone-deaf to the needs of Scottish journalism. Decline has been painful. These are unpleasant times if you are a professional journalist, a photographer or a freelancer trying to imagine a future career in the industry. Worried about the next email from the office, many journalists – some of them supporters of independence – are repelled by the way their profession is often treated online.

One of the most wounding experiences for some journalists is seeing independence supporters celebrating a collapse in sales and delighting in the redundancy notices as they are doled out. These are people’s livelihoods and if it were in any other walk of life, from manufacturing to health services, most people faced with the uncertainty of redundancy would expect words of support. Scotland has deep roots in organised labour and trade unionism and the expectation is that people whose jobs are at risk get our support.

Set against that, we all have feelings and huge numbers of people feel emotionally attached to the nation they live in and its future prospects. With opinion polls at around 54%, the argument for independence has convinced over half the adult population, but the bulk of newspapers rarely reflect that reality, and many are openly hostile to the idea.

Huge swathes of Scots have long since tired of the drip-drip of negativity and the implication that supporting self-governance makes you a zoomer, a fantasist or a cybernat.

There is genuine resentment about the breadth and quality of the printed press in Scotland. Most titles are editionalised, principally operated from London and with only a few sparing pages that reflect Scottish politics, sport or arts and culture. Some titles also feature columnists who exude sneering and patronising attitudes towards Scottish independence and show supercilious disrespect for others. Why would you not be tempted to shades of schadenfreude if they got their jotters?

Another area of dispute which frequently rears its ugly head in these disputes is the source of funding of new launches. Many people recoil from the idea of crowdfunders and supporter-led funding platforms such as GoFundMe or Patreon. Some see it as little better than sophisticated begging, others as evidence that a project is already amateur and so likely to fail.

Those who sneer at crowdfunding are frequently less keen to discuss the source of traditional newspaper funding, with its long and dishonourable history of so-called media moguls, who regularly hide their wealth in tax havens and profit from backing repellent causes and questionable regimes. Anyone who has watched the BBC’s current series on Rupert Murdoch’s empire would have a hard job passing moral judgment on a Patreon campaign.

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In the course of this Twitter spat, Ferguson raised another important point, one that is often overlooked by those that advocate web-based media and are therefore cynical about the decline of print.

Just as new initiatives like Skotia have been made possible by digital distribution, so too have new opportunities opened to traditional newspapers. The Daily Mail’s web service MailOnline is currently the world’s number one newspaper website, with 45.348 million unique users. The Daily Record, a newspaper which has always tilted towards football, has its own regular podcasts and video interviews. And The Courier, one of the best print newspapers in Scotland, understands the micro-regional possibilities of web delivery. Traditionally a Dundee-based paper, it hones versions of its journalism with stories about Angus and the Mearns, Fife and Perth and Kinross.

To imply that there are two colossal versions of media – the old and the new or the traditional and the progressive – is to seriously misunderstand how the media is changing and how the web has disrupted the rules. Two concurrent events underline the complexity of these issues. Last week, the editor of Index, Hungary’s largest independent news site, was sacked, sparking street demonstrations and widespread fears that the country’s increasingly authoritarian government led by Prime Minister Viktor Orban is clamping down on one of the country’s few remaining independent news outlets.

Whatever you think about the state of the media in Scotland – and there is much to be critical of – no-one can reasonably argue that we are facing brutal censorship.

Then again, control is not the same as political censorship. For decades the control of public discourse has been shaped and circumscribed by major newspapers and their owners and it is a good thing that control by plutocrats is being challenged. New voices and alternative opinions have gained the oxygen of attention via the web and it is no coincidence that movements like #MeToo, Black Lives Matter and

indeed the Yes campaign have gathered momentum online, and not through conventional newspaper editorials.

Nor are those new channels of social and digital media free from manipulation. Last week, the CEOs of some of the world’s biggest tech companies, Apple, Google, Facebook and Amazon, gave evidence to the US Congress and were told they have “too much power”, spread fake news and are a danger to the American economy.

Given the global power of the participants, it will be no great surprise if

Bezos and his testimony dominate debates within the media for weeks to come. But as we watch the world from Scotland, let us not forget a Twitter spat between two decent men that didn’t get the attention it deserved.

Sometimes big issues come wrapped in small packages.