In My Opinion: Bill Heaney: New ABC figures should carry a health warning

THEY make grim reading. Some of the circulation figures for the Scottish weeklies are so frightening that the ABC report should carry a health warning.

Today, on, we have the figures for daily and evening regional newspapers. Tomorrow, it’ll be the turn of the weeklies.

And both add up to unsuitable reading for older scribes and subs like me with heart attacks on their CV.

Editors and advertising managers must be tearing their hair out.

However, the old maxim, that ‘when there’s very little you can do about something you should do very little’, will not do here.

Everything possible must and should be done to save cherished titles like the Clydebank Post, the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette and the Dumbarton and Vale of Leven Reporter.

And please don’t tell me they don’t need saving.

Even if it’s only the coronary surgery equivalent of inserting a stent instead of going the whole hog and doing a triple heart by-pass, something needs to be done – urgently.

I edited the Dumbarton Reporter when I was just 21 and its sales figure was usually above 9,000 and sometimes, in a very good week, it was touching 10,000.

But that was in 1966.

It’s heartbreaking to note that these latest figures show the Reporter at 2,960, down 21 per cent on the previous year.

I recall too those happy days when Bob Ramsey edited the Clydebank Press, which morphed into the Post, and it sold 25,000 copies a week.

Now it’s selling just 7,669 and down nearly 23 per cent in the six months to December last year.

Some big weeklies have taken heavy hits.

The Ayrshire Post (12 per cent), the Perthshire Advertiser (11 per cent), The Southern Reporter (nine per cent), the Ardrossan and Saltcoats Herald (11 per cent) and the Airdrie and Coatbridge Advertiser (12.5 per cent) are all down.

These are good, solid titles which have carried the support and respect of their readers and advertisers for more than a century.

Simply doing research which reveals readers have switched their allegiance to the internet is not enough.

Publishers have to stop readers leaving and attract them back to buying newsprint.

Media Scotland, who publish 18 weekly titles, are not sitting on their hands on this one.

Allan Rennie, the editor-in-chief, recognises that hard work, talent and enterprise are hugely important.

And that good local news stories, cutting-edge design, marketing initiatives and special promotions are all part of the recipe for success.

These essential ingredients have been put into the mixer at the Paisley Daily Express where the cake is beginning to rise.

Media Scotland’s weeklies are working side by side with the PDE and there is a realistic expectation that the daily’s success will rub off on them.

We have to wait for the next set of ABC figures in July though to see if there’s going to be any badly-needed ‘icing on the weekly cake’.

Bill Heaney is an award-winning journalist who edited the Lennox Herald for many years and was a special adviser, on the regional Press, at Holyrood and a media adviser at Westminster. He is now retired but continues to operate as a columnist with the Lennox Herald and a pro bono media consultant to a number of churches and charities.