The Axe Falls

June 8, 20:00. The scene was said to be one of “utter devastation”. People huddled in small groups, stunned. Tears. Some people doing number crunching, others hatching thoughts of an occupation of the building.

And then someone mentioned that perhaps nothing on this scale had happened in the Scottish newspaper industry for decades.

The undisputed number is that some 90 editorial posts are at risk of redundancy at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail newspapers – respectively, the second-biggest selling daily newspaper in Scotland and the biggest-selling Sunday.

Earlier in the day, the rumour had been 40. Bad enough.

What’s less known is 90 out of how many. It seems like 150 will be remaining, but as figures were flying all over during the first minutes following the announcement, one source had it that a staggering 53 per cent of the editorial workforce had been earmarked for the axe. It seems more like well over a third. Hardly much consolation.

The announcement was made at 4pm, which means most of tomorrow’s paper is unlikely to reflect the havoc caused. It is said editor-in-chief, Bruce Waddell, was shaking – though it’s not known whether before, during or after he delivered the news. Good guys shake with the gravity of such situations. It was no surprise he didn’t pick up the phone when tried to contact him. Neither did Mark Hollinshead, his boss.

Not even the NUJ knew what was in store and neither, it seems, did even very senior editorial management. Meanwhile, Paul Holleran, the NUJ’s Scottish Organiser, was being interviewed by BBC Radio Scotland. Glasgow’s media hubs are uniquely pretty much within walking distance of each other. His next port of call was “across the water”. Central Quay beckoned. Little wonder, the receptionist – usually so chirpy – reflected the mood when she picked up the phone., meanwhile, was down. Traffic, plus – as Sod’s Law would have it – some development work being done ‘at the back end’ by the designer, ahead of new services being launched. At the very moment the biggest media story of the year breaks … it could not have been a worse time to be dreaming dreams of improvements on the horizon.

Many pundits have said, in the cold light of an academic discussion, that newspaper closures or massive cuts are an inevitability in the face of declining sales and the rise of alternative sources of where to place one’s advertising revenue, dwindling or otherwise.

In the reality, it’s carnage on a very human scale.

And allmediascotland’s memory drifts back. Not to the 1970s, when the Scottish Daily News emerged from the ashes of the Scottish Daily Express being reduced to a rump. More recently. When, three years ago, the Herald and Times Group announced that, essentially, all but a handful of staff would need to apply for around 40 fewer jobs, it was far from an isolated expression that times are tough.

It was just before Christmas. People felt numb.

The fear now, as the chances of survival for the Scottish newspaper industry becomes once again a mainstream news item, is that others will declare their hand, dispense more bad news, seek to slip their job loss announcements under the radar …with us all still reeling from the first bitter blow.

“It’s one of the darkest days. Mark my words, the ripples of this will extend beyond the Record,” said one key media player, to allmediascotland.