Newspapers: The Times, They Are a-Changin’

The Times of London is moving north. As of this spring, newspaper readers will be able to buy a Times of Scotland. While the masthead may be a novelty, the personnel are familiar figures. While everyone connected to the project is tight-lipped, I understand that Magnus Linklater will edit the new edition.

A decade after he was in charge at The Scostman, when then editors were still holed up in the old wood-lined offices hanging out above the Fruitmarket, in Edinburgh’s city centre, rather than the new premises in Holyrood park, Linklater will oversee an edition which is likely to further undermine the main Scottish titles.

The Times is well suited to Scotland’s news market. You can look to the high sales of Sunday Times Scotland to see that readers here like the brand; it is conservative, reputable and well-written. That is what the aged readership of The Herald and The Scotsman look for, but those papers frequently don’t deliver in terms of quality. An aggressive marketing campaign should see the Times of Scotland muscle into the territory of the Glasgow and Edinburgh dailies, much as the Daily Mail did so successfully in the mid-1990’s.

Offering a wider sports coverage than that currently provided by the single football correspondent, a beefed up arts coverage (a question remains over whether the new edition will have any claims over the T2 features supplement) and more hard news, a Times of Scotland would bring new readers to established writers such as Angus MacLeod, the political editor.

With a launch date around the time of the elections – my bet is that they’d want to start by April, so as to ride the tide of what promises to be a close, and therefore exciting, election campaign – they’ll be looking to have made a substantial and solid increase on sales by late autumn.

This all makes a lot of commercial sense. It responds to the European trend of recognising the needs of distinct nations and regions, while being able to draw on the vast resources and the reputation of the Times. Should the election result in a Labour defeat, it will also position the
paper as sensitive to the political landscape.

It raises some important questions. Why did devolution prove a golden opportunity to the English press, while the Scottish papers wilted into hick products? How is that Ireland can sustain The Irish Times (no relation) in Irish hands, but Scots are incapable of producing a paper to match? And why doesn’t The Guardian, the natural home for the central belt’s soft-left readers, not make more effort north of the border?

I did say that those connected to the Times project remain tight-lipped, and what you read here is, in part, informed speculation. More detail is expected mid-January. Next year may see the newspaper market remain as one of the most competitive in the world, but, be under no illusions, it’s the only English titles who are fighting fit.

Alex Bell