Ex-Scotsman editor on demise of Scottish papers

Former Scotsman editor John McGurk has produced a fascintating investigation for the BBC on the future of the indigenous Scottish quality press. His conclusion is that it’s fucked.

When I was editor of scotsman.com (seven years, ten-fold increase in readerts, ahtankyew) John and I had our differences insofar as he would joyfully have strangled the online edition in its cot. But he has hit the nail on the head with this piece.

As well as exposing the guilty secret of plummeting sales at the Horrid and Hootsmon, John reveals that public sector advertising worth £47m will no longer be placed in the Scottish nationals. To put that the effects of that in layman’s terms: game over, man, game over.

Some thoughts occurred to me:

  • If the Scottish public sector (and the politicians who run it) want native Scottish journalism they should continue to advertise with the Scottish nationals.
  • They are under absolutely no obligation to do so, any more than readers are obliged to buy the papers.
  • This is a lesson that the Scotsman and Herald have not learned. They are owned by companies (Gannet and Johnston Press) that insist on obscenely large profit margins and sacrifice quality to achieve them. Both papers are produced on a shoestring. It shows. The quality of journalism in both papers has fallen drastically. That’s why people don’t buy them. Why should they?
  • At no point did John mention the Metro. On the 26 bus to the centre of Edinburgh people used to read the Scotsman but they now read the Metro – a low quality tabloid packed with wire copy. As that’s what Scotsman has become why should people bother paying money for it? (Oh and Johnston Press does not understand The Scotsman and their much-lauded digital strategy is deeply flawed – no matter how much Tim Bowdler clings to it when the share price falls. Again.)
  • While Andrew Neil and John spoke movingly about the decline of Scottish papers they were strangely reticent about their own contribution. Brillo in particular has been loud in his condemnation of JP’s record at the Scotsman (correctly, by the way). However, the wirily coiffed one is not so hot on his own record. A listener phoning in to BBC Scotland’s Morning Extra to discuss John’s report had this to say: “These two were handed a quality paper and handed back the Beano at the end of their tenure.” McGurk had no answer to that but a joke about how healthy the Beano’s sales were. For years, I tried in vain at the Scotsman to discover the exact decline in sales when Neil was in charge but no-one could ever tell me. I do know that his stewardship was a wasted opportunity. He had the backing and the ambition to take the paper forward but his bloody true believer Thatcherite ideology got in the way and he alienated the readers and lost many, many fine journalists – mostly to Business AM.
  • The Herald and Scotsman will merge soon. Both titles will survive as west and east coast editions of one product. I don’t think either Gannet or JP have the vision (or cash) to do that. As John said in his piece, PLCs are a bad bet for newspapers. I believe the future lies with trusts and family firms. My money’s on DC Thomson or the Guardian to buy and merge them. I have no reason for thinking this other than a feeling in my water.

Finally, readers still care. One lady on the phone-in lamented the demise of the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch. But despite feedback from readers, Charles McGhee of the Herald did not seem to take on board any of their criticisms. And that’s part of the problem too.



Filed under Journalism, Scotland, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Ex-Scotsman editor on demise of Scottish papers

  1. Good reading there. I’m sceptical about what’s coming in terms of a merged Herald/Scotsman, but people are telling me at the Herald that they have plans to go online-only within six years.

    The question is, six years from now, who will be reading it? And who’s going to be paying for the staff?

  2. Two papers rich in heritage vandalised almost now beyond the point of repair by constant chipping away at the very core of what once made them great – the content, the lifeblood of a paper.
    With some modern thinking, new approaches to the way information is gathered and delivered, some good old fashioned TLC, and some vision, someone could revive at least the Herald, although the Scotsman may need something far more radical.
    At a time when politics, sport and commerce are more in vogue than ever, it is almost tragic that there isn’t a quality paper to speak of without being forced to screw up your face and wish for better.
    Time is running out.

  3. Juan Kerr

    The Hootsmon in particular has whored itself out to poor quality google journalism and agenda based reporting.

  4. Drew Murray

    What do we expect when foreigners control our media? The people who own these papers are only interested in money not in the welfare of the nation, or even the tradition of journalistic excellence, and integrity that the Herald once exemplified. Now, sad to say, I have no doubt that they have a source of revenue, off the books, that pays them to spin for Westmin.

  5. R MacLeod

    Perhaps if these newspapers reflected the views of the populace instead of the narrow political views of their PLC board the rot could be stopped .
    however they continue to try and spoon feed Scots the Union line you are too stupid , too weak etc.
    Smell the coffee or face obliteration

  6. Ed M

    What do we expect when foreigners control our media?”

    That is only part of the problem, Drew.

    The papers editorial staff(mostly Scots) are, you will notice, responsible for daily dishing up of unionist biased crap, which consist of non-stories, ANYTHING to dish up the dirt on the SNP, to the exclusion of ANYTHING Scots which shows the country up in a more positive light.

    I, for one, had my fill of this daily crap and have no intention of reading this stuff from the “papers” mentioned-No, I will continue to get the REAL news from reading English papers and scrutinising UK “Blogs” to find out what is REALLY going on here!

    Life is too short and precious to waste time buying these “Scots” papers, as it only raises my blood pressure to read the drivel within their pages!

  7. i love scottish folds. if you guys need some cat info check out http://www.scottishfoldkitten.com they got great stuff!

  8. Its of no surprise to me that these two once held in high esteem newspapers are in great decline the answer is very simple, they used to be fair minded papers where you could air your views be it political or otherwise, now they are so biased if you are in the least anti unionist you are not allowed to have your say.

    Consquently the readers who used to read their papers now have turned away because they are fed up with the anti independence rhetoric they spew out.

  9. Just as I thought, that is what you do not want to hear and why your readers have deserted you.

  10. Pingback: Seven Day Operation Looms for Herald Titles | SHAUN MILNE | progressive journalism

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