The ‘Crisis’ within Scottish newspapers – part three

LAST Wednesday, the Scottish Affairs Committee at the House of Commons grilled five key figures in the Scottish newspaper industry, as part of an investigation into a ‘crisis’ within it.

They were: Jim Raeburn, of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society; Tim Blott, managing director of the Herald and Times group; Mark Hollinshead, managing director of Trinity Mirror nationals division, including the Daily Record and Sunday Mail; John McLellan, editor-in-chief of The Scotsman group of newspapers; and Michael Johnston, its managing director.

It is worth watching: here.

On Friday, allmediascotland provided a timeline of the first 22 minutes’ worth of the two hours’ worth of proceedings (here). Part two – from 23 minutes to 46.30 – can be read here. Tomorrow, read part four.

46.30 Merging of production, say a daily newspaper with its sister title. Any evidence, what research, to show it might succeed? John McLellan acknowledged that merging production was a money-saving exercise, in these difficult times, but added that it should be viewed in the context of other initiatives to improve the offering of newspapers, including online (www.scotsman.com, which – says Michael Johnston – reaches a quarter of Scots per month) and new products.

53.00 Tim Blott reminded the committee that newspapers such as his are competing in one of the most competitive newspaper markets in the world, with some rivals actually losing money, eg The Guardian and News International titles. “The reason why does Scotland have the most number of newspapers, probably in the world, it’s because a lot of people were buying more than one newspaper.” He added that people are currently being less newspapers than they used to, perhaps three copies of The Herald a week rather than six.

Continued Mark Hollinshead: “Twenty years ago, there was no Scottish Sun, there was no internet, there was no Metro, and there was no raft of free weekly newspapers…… The media landscape has changed beyond recognition and continues to change at an enormously rapid rate and the key strategic challenge is about our ability to adapt and innovate. And we’re doing that and technology is at the heart of it.”

59.00 Mark Hollinshead pointed out how important public notices are to the Scottish press, especially to weekly newspapers, and to the democratic process. “How can we work with government to demonstrate the effectiveness of the press in the Scottish marketplace? This is critical for our future viability, in terms of how we liaise with government. We are not looking for funding, we are looking to demonstrate the value and effectiveness of our medium.”

63.30 Mark Hollinshead disputed the suggestion that his company’s free, afternoon Record PM represented unfair competition in the same way that loss-making London-based newspapers producing Scottish editions might be.

67.30 In response to a concern that the merged production of The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times might lead to a loss of quality, Tim Blott replied that one reporter covering a story for all three titles versus a reporter per title does not necessarily mean any reduction in quality while delivering an obvious efficiency.

70.00 To the concern that there might not even be one reporter for all three titles turning up to cover a story and that instead a media release is re-cycled, Michael Johnston says the challenge is about how the harsh economic reality is forcing efficiencies, among companies that don’t receive government funding, while trying to maintain quality.

72.00 Temptation to sensationalise (even if inaccurate), in order to keep selling? MPs easy targets? And why not The Herald available in Westminster? Tim Blott said an electronic version of the full paper has been made available to all MPs, because it is uneconomic to send a print edition.

74.00 To be continued……..