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On the Record

Douglas Fraser | 18:49 UK time, Monday, 23 February 2009

Selling 460,000 copies every week - not far off one copy for every 10 Scots - you might have thought the Sunday Mail was in healthy shape.

Not so. Such is the ailing health of the newspaper industry that even the mighty market leaders are taking some unpleasant financial medicine.

The staff are to be merged with those who produce the Daily Record, meaning a cut of 70 posts from 276 journalists.

Ten of those have already gone, and the management are hoping to make the rest voluntary redundancies.

But the National Union of Journalists reckons it will be unlikely to find all those job cuts voluntarily, as its journalists are so much younger than on other newspapers.

This is a heavily unionised newsroom, which last year implemented a work-to-rule in protest at the increasing workload, as staff numbers were slimmed.

The changes will also affect the smaller teams at Record PM, The Glaswegian and Business 7 - all distributed for free.

The changes are partly driven by falling circulation because of the internet and changing consumer choice.

With the Record's circulation at 371,000 on the average day, that's down more than 8% on last year, and continues to position it behind the Scottish Sun.

Until 2006, when it lost the top spot, it spent 32 years as market leader.

Advertising revenue is in even faster decline because of the recession.

And papers are feeling the impact of new technology: not only do people increasingly expect to get their news online and for free, but the software for processing news copy is changing and getting more efficient.

Trinity Mirror, the London-based company that owns the Glasgow-based titles, is investing in a software system that cuts out the number of process stages between reporter's notebook and the printing press. It has already done so with its Birmingham titles.

This Thursday, the parent company publishes its 2008 figures, which will provide a guide to the advertising downturn, and the extent of roll-out we can expect for other titles, possibly including the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and People.

The Daily Mirror is now below half the UK circulation of The Sun, its main rival.

The Record and Mail's merged journalist team is similar to changes and job losses being negotiated at The Herald and Sunday Herald, also based in Glasgow.

It doesn't say much about working at those heavier titles to find management has even more voluntary redundancies than they had wanted.

In Edinburgh, The Scotsman and its sister papers, Scotland on Sunday and Edinburgh Evening News, have recently seen two editors quit, with John McLellan appointed as editor overseeing all the titles.

An announcement of a more limited joint working arrangement is expected in the next few days, with the likely job losses being a relatively modest 11, with most of those voluntary packages already subscribed.

Indeed, the rumour mill is going significantly beyond that.

With The Scotsman's parent company Johnston Press facing a large debt overhang and dismal share price, its new chief executive John Fry could raise some useful capital by selling his Edinburgh flagship titles.

The most natural fit? The cash-rich, Courier/Sunday-Post/Press & Journal/Beano/Dandy publisher, DC Thomson.

This is "pure speculation", according to the Dundee family firm. But that doesn't mean it's wrong.


  • Comment number 1.

    I must say I've heard the rumour about DC's interest in the Scotsman too. It'll be interesting to see what happens there.

    That said, whether it ultimately goes ahead is anyone's guess - as I'm sure the monolpolies and mergers commission would have a lot to say about three of Scotland's four main broadsheets all being owned under the one roof.

    On the Johnston side, any takeover of the Scotsman could leave the company's many, many Scottish weekly titles in an interesting quandry.

    For a start, Johnston has ripped the guts out of its weekly publishing capabilities in recent years. Archant press in Aberdeenshire, and Angus County Press in Angus have both had their printing facilities ripped apart by Johnston, and their presses have long since gone.

    It's anyone's guess what the situation is like elsewhere in the group, but I doubt it's any different.

    The firm now prints all of its Scottish titles in the one location - in Edinburgh at the Scotsman presses.

    If the Courier does swoop in and buy the Scotsman, but the weeklies remain within JP, where does that leave them when they go to print?

    They'd effectively lose control of their own destinies and will be forced to print their titles on contract with an outside firm. That could be very worrying indeed during these economic times and could have major ramifications for the local weeklies industry in Scotland.

    This, of coure, is all pure speculation, but it certainly makes for an interesting debate.

  • Comment number 2.

    The special tragedy of the Scottish broadsheets is that their decline has taken place against a background of increased activity and interest in Scottish politics, since devolution.

    One might think that would have created an opportunity for Scottish serious newpapers. London papers cannot possibly cover Scottish politics fully (if indeed they try to at all). And those interested in Scottish politics might have been expected to support the Scottish broadsheet newspapers.

    At the end of the day, people buy particular newspapers because they identify with the world view presented in them. Nobody has to buy a newpaper any more.

    The editorial stances adopted by the Herald and the Scotsman might as well have been specially designed to drive off readers looking for a Scottish political perspective.

  • Comment number 3.

    Like many others I tend to read a range of newspapers on the internet. It's convenient and saves a bit of the planet.

    However, quality remains an issue. Certainly I would personally never choose to read a Record or a Sun but I find both the Herald and the Scotsman increasingly biased against the Scottish SNP Govt which is very tedious particularly as the quality of their arguments is extremely poor.

    My favourite paper is the Press and Journal which I still get delivered daily. That said, I still miss Business AM which was wonderfully irreverant.

  • Comment number 4.

    The Press and Journal certainly has a higher circulation that the Scotsman or the Herald.

    Minceandmealie is right, however - the Scotsman and the Herald seem to be working as hard as they can to prevent anyone taking an interest in Scottish politics. I don't think it's a case of bias against the SNP, but more of a profound disinterest in Scottish politics as a whole.

    One can only hope that this will lead to a bit of a shakeup in the otherwise moribund Scottish publishing industry. Having friends who've done stints at the Herald, and having worked myself in the Scotsman offices, it's clear that there's a sense of confusion about where Scottish newspapers should be heading. It may be that they restructure and figure out their remit, or indeed it may be the case that the publishers have to accept that there is no space in the Scottish market for two mediocre national dailies that can't work out what they're supposed to be covering.

  • Comment number 5.

    I think that newspapers are a business like any other business. The Scotsman is a case in point. The Barclay Brothers are good businessmen and got the assets that they wanted and left.

    Andrew Neil got to do a Fred Goodwin on a great Scottish instititution and left. Is it something that they put in the water in Paisley Grammar School?

    Johnston paid too much for too little and their balance sheet is feeling the strain.

    The Internet Age and the dodgy politics did the rest for The Scotsman.

    Sad but there we have it. I suppose that miracles do happen and there may be some turn around down the line from here. We will just have to keep our fingers crossed.

  • Comment number 6.

    My needs are simple. I hope for a fair Scottish Press. Some hope!


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