Tag Archives: Herald

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

Readers react to the new scotsman.com

As I may have mentioned, my former project has undergone a redesign. I’ve been monitoring user responses to this via the comments on scotsman.com stories. Judging by the remarks on this story, the new design is not getting an enthusiastic reception. Here’s a sample of comments (remember, people who regularly comment on a site’s stories tend to be its core readership):

  • More people are concerned about the dreadful new layout of the posting page than are able to comment on the story. Scotsman, this is your worst idea yet.
  • What a joke! Newsquest will be falling about.the old format was much better, this change in not good at all
  • It’s a bit mince n’est pas?
  • I will report this site as unsuitable.
  • I happen to know that Johnston Press got rid of the team behind the old Scotsman website. Not without a fight.
  • I think we shoudl e-mail the Scotsman. Their site used to be the best among UK papers for usability, comment and ease of reading – this is now very poor, and worse than the Herald.
  • I think this is knackered already lol
  • I’m gone. This is unusable.
  • Oh, this site is just the worst now.

For me the most damning comment was this: “With the Herald you can at least see what you have written and use bold and italics.” The Herald website, which for so long lagged behind as an object of derision and pity, is now favourably compared to the dear old Hootsmon.


Yet more negative feedback in this piece entitled “New look for Scotsman’s leading website“. Here’s a flavour of the 46 responses:

  • This is appallingly bad, the old design was a little dated perhaps, but much better than this. I thought we left behind this ‘my first homepage’ aesthetic with Netscape Navigator and dial up modems. Why does Johnson Press seem so concerted to make The Scotsman into little more than a regional newspaper of little importance?
  • Not only are there still glitches in this new setup, but it is, to say the least, appalling. It is badly organised and quite feeble in comparison to the original. Did the Editor’s kids design it themselves, ot was it a school project?
  • I’ll post as usual … but I don’t like this set-up. Not a bit of it! It’s now a generic newspaper look. How uniquely Scottish is that? Bad move Hootsmon … Your advisers want shot!!!
  • Sorry, but I don’t like it very much; it’s almost identical to that of the Montrose Review, Brechin Advertiser and all the little locals which are printed by Johnson Press…adequate but not sufficient for a broadsheet such as The Scotsman…
  • This website is awful. I suppose the new dreadful look matches the new dreadful standards of journalism under Johnston Press.



Mad propz to allmediascotland.com for spotting yet more disgruntlement in this Edinburgh Evening News story. Here are some further highlights:

  • This took “several months of preparation and planning”? Looks more like an afternoon’s work by a couple of drunk toddlers.
  • As a web designer and project manager with around 12 years experience working with some of the largest blue chip companies in the UK I would give this effort 2 out of 10 (well at least it loads!)
  • All three Scotsman publications online have glittered in a galaxy dominated by website giants such as BBC News , Guardian Unlimited and the New York Times – to cite just three worthy examples.The cliche that now leaps to mind is: “If it aint broke,why fix it”?
  • This “new look” is an embarrassing step backwards. The old Scotsman websites had a simple and effective style. Quite classy almost. This new version is something else. I wonder if the design remit went like this:
    “Let’s implement something that looks like tawdry p!sh, indistinguishable from all the dross that’s out there. We want to run the Scotsman into the ground”.
  • This new dub dub dub is shocking. Sack the person responsible. I would love to have some Evening News journalist contact me. I’d give them a piece of my mind, lets face it they cannot spell, thay have no proper grasp of grammar and they display an appaling lack of sense. Morevover where are all my letters going as I type them. I wondered if there was something amiss with my set at this end. Perhaps it is the ‘improvements’ made by the Johnson Pres people. Bring it on schoolboys, we fought a war that you might print your drivel. Merry Christmas.

Merry Christmas indeed. God bless us one and all.


Filed under Journalism, newmedia