WHEN I started writing for the Sunday Herald at its launch in 1999, I was repeatedly told that it would only last six months. Well, it survived a bit longer than that. Indeed, the longevity of the printed press, despite repeated predictions of its imminent demise, tells us something about the enduring importance of what used to be called “quality” journalism. In the era of fake news, Twitter storms and identity politics, the press for all its many faults still performs an important function, which is sometimes just to be a voice of relative sanity in a sea of emotional madness.

This summer has demonstrated just how rancid our political culture has become. Earlier this week, the former Labour spin-doctor, John McTernan, told BBC’s Today programme that Labour “is transforming itself into the nasty party”. In doing so he was implicitly condemning his and Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party as worse than the Tories. This kind of hyperbolic rhetoric is becoming pretty standard.

Earlier in the week, the former Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, a figure commanding great respect not only among Jews, compared the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, to Enoch Powell, and said his recent remarks about Zionism were as racist as Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1967. It’s as if even normally sober-minded people feel that they have to ramp up their invective to 11 just to get a hearing.

It was the same with Boris Johnson’s burka remarks. It was, of course, provocative to describe women wearing this attire as looking like “bank robbers and letter boxes”. But Johnson was widely accused of being a racist and even a neo-fascist. The former Foreign Secretary is many things, but whatever you think of him he is not a fascist, neo or otherwise, and nor is the British Conservative Party a racist organisation. Indeed, to claim that Tory politicians are fascists and racists robs these terms of any meaning at a time when the real far right is undergoing a resurgence.

Similarly, the widespread allegations about Jeremy Corbyn’s anti-semitism – not least from Labour MPs like Margaret Hodge - devalues the very concept of anti-semitism. His critics may even unknowingly be giving comfort and encouragement to genuine jew-haters. Repeated claims that Labour is an anti-semitic organisation makes it look as if this despicable creed is becoming almost respectable. Look, racists can say: even the British Labour Party is now on our side.

All this has a lot to do, of course, with the rise of social media. When the Sunday Herald was born, the internet was a relatively new toy. Google was around, but it was still a fact-based search engine run by academic geeks largely for geeks. Twitter had yet to be born, and Facebook was confined to US campuses. These internet phenomena have now taken over the world – almost literally in Facebook’s case – and have turned journalism on its head, as well as stealing the advertising revenue that supported it.

In the past, newspaper editors acted as gatekeepers, assessing the overall quality and news value of the information that entered the public sphere. Professional journalists were paid to research stories and comment on matters of public concern. Now anything goes. Bored teenagers in Macedonia can cobble together some pro-Trump sites and sell them for clicks to gullible US consumers of fake news. There is zero quality control on Facebook. Post-truth has invaded the public consciousness like a computer virus.

People can now believe whatever they want to believe: “the Pope backs Trump”, “Clinton is a murderer” and find confirmation on social media. There readers are insulated from alternative views and factual evidence. Computer algorithms create filter bubbles, pre-selecting posts that conform to people’s prejudices, in a form of digital brainwashing. Newspapers had editorial lines, but they at least tried to give a range of opinion, and did not, as a rule, run comment as news.

Endless rows on Twitter have debased political discourse by infecting it with abuse and anger. The laws on defamation seem to have been abolished. No matter what you think of Alex Salmond, or his crowd-funding campaign, the things that have been routinely tweeted and retweeted about his alleged sex crimes are disgraceful and would never have appeared in the Sunday Herald or any other newspaper back in the day.

Some might think this is a good thing, that powerful figures can no longer hide behind the law. But this social media free-for-all is death to responsible journalism and also to natural justice. Newspapers that still keep within the law, look as if they’re stuffy and behind the times. Worse, they’re regarded as part of that sluice of evil, the MSM, the Mainstream Media.

Of course, the press has its faults. Newspaper editors exercised power, but they didn’t always exercise it responsibly. Tabloid newspapers in the noughties spread hatred against immigrants and people on benefits, pandering to the worst prejudices of their readers. In 1999, some tabloid and broadsheet newspapers just couldn’t forgive Scots for voting in massive numbers for a Scottish parliament, one of the proximate causes for the creation of the Sunday Herald.

The early months and years of Holyrood were torrid. There were accusations of misuse of expenses, incompetent MSPs and attempts to ridicule and undermine the policies of the Labour/Lib Dem administration, such as the repeal of Clause 28, which effectively banned any positive representation of homosexuality in schools.

Abolishing Section 2A, as it was properly called in Scotland, remains the Sunday Herald campaign in which I take greatest pride. Alone of the press of the day, the Sunday Herald took, head on, the Keep the Clause campaign, led by the formidable combination of Stagecoach bus tycoon, Brian Souter, and Cardinal Thomas Winning, leader of the Catholic Church.

The editor, Andrew Jaspan, and I, received many threats, and not just of divine retribution, for arguing that Clause 28 was a homophobic abomination that should be repealed in a civilised country.

The row spread to the Scottish cabinet and became a fierce battle between liberals like then Communities Minister Wendy Alexander, and less progressive ministers of the day. The Labour First Minister, Donald Dewar, was almost torn apart by the divisions, and some believe that the stress may have contributed to the collapse of his health and his premature death.

It is a measure of how Scotland has changed since 1999 that it’s inconceivable anything like Section 2A could become law today. An undoubted achievement of the Scottish parliament has been to help change Scotland’s primitive attitudes to diversity.

The Sunday Herald always saw itself in the forefront of progressive ideas, and was always prepared to stand on principle, not least when it stood alone in arguing for a Yes vote in the 2014 Scottish independence referendum. Some readers disapproved of that stance, but in taking it the Sunday Herald at least ensured a minimum of diversity in press coverage of that most important debate.

And it’s not over till it’s over. The Sunday Herald is not dead, it has simply evolved. There will now be two quality newspapers on Sunday: the Herald on Sunday and the Sunday National. The one becomes two. What better way to demonstrate that, no matter what the internet says, serious journalism is not dead.