|By G. Michael Dobbs|
My wife says that one of my problems is that I'm always working.
I have a difficulty disconnecting, even on vacation.
We were in Scotland recently for 12 days and I gravitated, like a moth to a flame, to newsstands, newspapers and magazines.
And I watched the news and I couldn't help compare what I saw there to what we have here.
In some respects, it was, as the English would say, "a busman's holiday." The Scots would probably just declare me an "eejit."
Now we did get to see a lot of the country. We spent two days in Edinburgh, two days in Aberdeen, and the rest of the time in Glasgow. We did day trips to Paisley, where my wife lived, as well as visit Stirling Castle, Castle Doune (where Monty Python filmed much of Monty Python and the Holy Grail), and many museums.
We even squeezed in a day trip to London thanks to my wife's cousin David and he and I had a tour of Parliament given by James Sheridan, the Member of Parliament who represents Paisley.
All in all, it was an incredible trip, but I was still working. I took notes where we went and squirreled away brochures and newspapers to bring home.
Here are some quick observations:
The Scots are avid newspaper readers. It's clear that newspapers are still the dominant news media in the nation. Go down to the local convenience store and you'll find six or eight daily papers from which to choose. Some are national publications covering all of Great Britain, while others are strictly Scottish. There are respectable broad sheets and some tabloids that are astonishing. There's one that covers nothing but soap operas, soccer and sex.
These newspapers fight for readership. They offer deals and prizes, such as free DVDs. The kind of circulation competition seen there hasn't been seen here in years.
Many magazines are sold with various bonuses as well. Glamour was polybagged with an umbrella. Another woman's magazine had a purse.
I couldn't help but think that this print media environment was a healthier one for readers and the publications.
My wife and I were in the center of Glasgow on a Saturday afternoon. It was mobbed by people shopping, going to restaurants, and generally hanging out.
For someone who is used to seeing the downtown districts of American cities looking like ghost towns on weekends, this sight of vitality was almost shocking.
Glasgow is a modern city that has not yet been "malled" to death. Although Braehead, a very large shopping center not that far from the city, certainly has made an impact, people still come downtown.
Of course one reason people do come downtown is that they can use affordable public transportation. The erosion of inter- and intra- city rail in this country has changed the way we live. How a properly maintained mass transit can be used to keep neighborhoods and communities viable is another lesson lost to many American cities.
I think it's unfair that we get to export American fast food franchises and television series to the Scots and we don't get something in return like more varieties of the amazing Cadbury chocolate products we saw and sampled.
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