JOHN McGURK: TEN MYTHS ABOUT THE CRISIS IN SCOTTISH NEWSPAPERS

JOHN McGURK

1. IT’S ALL BECAUSE OF THE INTERNET

Of course free digital news has caused newspaper sales to plummet but the truth is that they started falling 25 years ago as lifestyles changed and pressure of time encroached on reading habits.

In Scotland, this decline increased dramatically when London-based newspapers began printing Scottish editions in the mid 1990s.

Ironically, the new technology which made newspapers far cheaper to produce dramatically increased the competition and this has been a disaster for the indigenous Scottish national press.

Today, some Scottish readers can pick between 18 dailies.

There’s no other country in the world which offers such a choice of newspapers while Metro is free.

 

2. HARDLY ANYBODY READS A NEWSPAPER NOWADAYS

Scotland has a population of nearly 5.3 million but every day nearly 900,000 people buy a daily paper.

Add up the sales of the 18 titles available and that’s the total.

The truth is that the daily newspaper market in Scotland is still reasonably healthy.

Nearly 4 million people buy a daily newspaper in Scotland every month.

If you multiply the figures by the number of readers who share their paper with others, the readership of Scottish newspapers is well over …2 million a day.

 

3. NO NEWSPAPER IN SCOTLAND IS PUTING ON SALE

Scotland’s indigenous national titles, The Scotsman, The Herald and Daily Record now sell around 25% of what they once sold.

If you continue the graph, The Scotsman will print for another two years; the Herald a bit longer.

But look at the Scottish edition of The Times and you’ll find it has consistently been putting on sales over the last year.

In fact, The Times is likely to sell more than The Scotsman in around 12 months.

The Times in Scotland is succeeding because it serves essential Scottish news, comment, sport and business supported by a highly credible national and international agenda.

The Scotsman, on the other hand, tells you what the 10 o’clock news told you the previous evening.

 

4. SCOTS WHO DO BUY NEWSPAPERS PREFER INDIGENOUS SCOTTISH TITLES

The Sun outsells the Daily Record and the Daily Mail sells more than The Scotsman and Herald combined.

Conclusion: readers prefer the Scottish editions of the London-based newspapers because they’re better and more enjoyable.

Which other country in the world prefers its newspapers to be managed and dictated by another country?

 

5. ANDREW NEIL KILLED THE SCOTSMAN

Fact: The Herald declined faster than The Scotsman during Andrew’s time as publisher of The Scotsman.

During the same period, the Daily Record plunged faster than either The Herald or Scotsman when it lost its way to the Scottish Sun.

Andrew had no control over The Herald or the Record.

The Scotsman campaigned in areas where it relied on loyal readership and it became accepted that the paper was happy to attack its own readers.

For example: The Scotsman rightly supported the demutualisation of Standard Life but neglected the fact that thousands of its readers worked there and feared for their jobs.

Of course Andrew made misjudgements but he wanted the very best for The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Evening News.

 

6. SCOTTISH NEWSPAPERS ARE OUT OF TUNE WITH SCOTLAND

The Scotsman and Daily Record campaigned against independence. The Herald is probably more sympathetic while the Sunday Herald is mad for it.

During the referendum campaign, the Sunday Herald increased its sales by more than 30% and this led to the launch of The National as Scotland’s only pro-independence daily.

Yet Scotland’s biggest-selling titles, the Sun and the Daily Mail are most certainly unionist. The Scottish Sun may flirt with nationalism but this is not a position voiced by the Sun in London.

Bizarrely, a huge number of independence-supporting readers in Scotland prefer to read right-wing unionist newspapers which originate in England.

Therefore, the notion that The Scotsman in particular is out of tune with Scotland is a conundrum particularly since it carries writers who hold all shades of political opinion.

So it’s not about reality.  It’s about reader perception

Meanwhile the SNP-supporting The National is selling around the same as the Scottish edition of that unionist, capitalist, right-wing London newspaper The Times.

Work out that one.

 

7. THE BBC IS KILLING NEWSPAPERS

The corporation has 58 local news websites paid for by the licence payer which commercial publishers say they are struggling to compete against. The BBC has a 30% share of the UK digital news market.

On the face of it, this is unfair and even the BBC agrees because it’s now offering to share its content, and 100 community reporters, with regional papers.

The truth is that publishers have not invested in regional journalism despite the fact that they see their future as digital.

There is also a fear that they will use any resource supplied by the BBC to implement further cost cutting.

Newspapers around the world are also struggling to survive and they don’t have a public service broadcaster on their doorstep.

The BBC should concentrate on proving better TV and radio but the argument that it is killing local papers is not proven.

 

8. JOURNALISTS TODAY ARE NOT AS GOOD AS THOSE 30 YEARS AGO

There were terrific journalists of yesteryear and many did extraordinary work because they were encouraged to.

The best writers were able to get the time and the support to produce great scoops but there was a problem: even some of the very best were too fond of the drink.

There were others who only managed to keep their jobs because they were protected by the union.

Nowadays, there is too little original and distinctive work in Scottish newspapers not because journalists don’t have the ability. Its because they  can hardly leave their desks and are expected to curate material already out there.

But they are far better educated and sober compared to their predecessors.  Alas, they are also much poorer.

 

9. NEWSPAPER OWNERS ARE TRYING THEIR BEST

Publishers such as Johnston Press at The Scotsman and Newsquest at The Herald are in constant cost-cutting mode although they still make sizeable profits.

Johnston bought the “I” newspaper last week for £24 million in a move to breath some national advertising life into their regional papers not because they believe in the future of print.

Those London journalists now to be employed by Johnston Press had better look out their tin hats.

Regional publishers declare that they believe in a digital future but they refuse to invest in digital journalists and resource.

Johnston foolishly overpaid for newspapers which they now described as “sub-core” such as Scotland on Sunday.

Ten years ago, they paid £160 million for The Scotsman Publications which today might fetch around £4 million.

 

10. ONE QUALITY SCOTTISH PAPER IS THE ANSWER

Back in 2003, the then owners of The Scotsman, the Barclays, bid for the Herald.

There was an almighty uproar with politicians and academics demanding the preservation of diversity of opinion and media plurality despite the fact that the two papers would never have merged.

Eventually, Newsquest was hailed as the saviour of The Herald after the Barclays pulled out of the sale process.

Two years later, they pulled out of Scotland when they sold The Scotsman to Johnston Press.

It was another deal hailed by journalists who were glad to see the back of them and Andrew Neil.

Would pooling resources and finding common efficiencies have protected and enhanced the two papers?

Would they have had better chance of competing with the Daily Mail and The Times?

Alas, we will never know.

A merger between The Scotsman and The Herald remains a favoured option by spectators of the crisis in Scottish newspapers.

But it’s far too late to be a success.

 

jcmcgurk@blueyonder.co.uk

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