The deep cuts in editorial staff at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail are another nail in the coffin of the Scottish indigenous press. Some might not regret this latest blow on purely political grounds, but surely now is the time to stand back from partisan preferences and consider the wider role of journalism in a healthy polity.
The debate over devolution was driven to a large extent by press interest, notably so in the 1990s. The post-devolution decline of print journalism has occasioned only sporadic commentary but it has not gained traction as an issue. It is almost a decade since the Scottish Affairs Committee at Westminster looked into the health of the press, or indeed that a Holyrood committee actually considered the matter. Jim Mather’s Scottish newspaper ‘summit’ in 2009 has left no evident legacy.
It seems now to be widely believed that either the press doesn’t matter or that it’s doomed to disappear in the digital age. Perhaps print will be largely displaced by news consumed via mobile devices. That is of little ultimate consequence.
In fact, we need to distinguish between journalism and the vehicle through which it is distributed and consumed. The key issue today is the lack of investment in journalism itself. As Trinity Mirror cuts back further on content that appeals to Scots readers, the national public will further desert papers that have no distinctive value.
But aside from the disinvestment strategies of some London-headquartered businesses, the eye of the political class has collectively been taken off the press since Alex Salmond’s launch of the Scottish Broadcasting Commission in 2007.
While a game-changing initiative, it has had an unintended crowding-out effect. For a whole parliament, arguments have focused almost exclusively on whether or not Scotland needs a digital network of its own and that certainly looks set to continue.
Holyrood needs to wake up again and discuss the crisis in the Scottish press. In the midst of a deep economic and social crisis, and with the constitutional issue high on the agenda, indifference to decline is sheer irresponsibility.
Plurality is seen as key for Scotland’s broadcasting. It is no less a principle for the future of Scotland’s press. New business and organisational models will be needed and the discussion needs to start now.
Editor, The Caledonian Mercury:
Scotland is about to embark on its most important decision-making process in 300 years. And it is doing so with its native press crippled by cost-cutting. The industry is in a flat spin. That is a tragedy because Scottish journalism remains capable of greatness – as shown by the Sunday Herald’s recent stand on the nonsense of superinjunctions. Trinity Mirror and the other newspaper companies are not evil but they have run out of ideas apart from cutting costs to keep the share price buoyant.
The brutal truth is that the newspaper model is broken. It has had its day. This is in some ways no bad thing as it sees the end of machine journalism, the sausage factory approach to our craft.
Scottish politicians and institutions talk big about supporting innovation – but speaking as one who works in the digital publishing sector, it’s all hot air. Digitally speaking, Scotland is a desolate backwater, a disgraceful betrayal of our history of invention.
And digital innovation is the only thing that will save Scottish journalism. It is the only thing that offers a realistic future to the hundreds of hacks who have lost their jobs over recent years.
The net is a fantastic medium for journalists to set themselves up as independents, but the we need some support. It’s time for Scotland’s worthies to stop bleating about the Scottish media and start investing in and advertising with Scotland’s independent digital journalism sector, which includes many excellent ventures aside from my own.
former editor of The
Herald and The Evening Times, past president of the UK Society of Editors, former member of the Press Complaints Commission, and Honorary Professor in Journalism at Glasgow Caledonian University:
The diversity of views and opinions represented in our national newspapers is essential for the political health of Scotland. That’s why the loss of nearly 100 journalists’ jobs at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, combined with the major staff cuts already experienced by other Scottish newspapers, can only be detrimental to democracy.
One could argue that the Record and Mail could have been less fawning and more constructively critical in their support of one political party, Labour, but that’s not really the point at issue.
If mass-market newspapers such as the Record and quality titles like this one and The Herald and Scotsman (and let’s not forget the doughty local press also caught in the current crisis) are no longer able to cover the business of government, from Holyrood to the town hall, then everyone eventually suffers.
Our politicians should be accountable to the people who elect them every four or five years. But if national and local newspapers alike are unable to give a “voice” to the people because of a lack of journalistic resource, then there is a grave danger that our politicians will become complacent and the opportunities for corruption and the abuse of political power will flourish.
Scotland’s current news opt-out broadcast arrangements and alternative online news sources currently do not come close to having the same impact as the press in its public watchdog role.
Reducing the full force of that roar to a whimper can only be bad for Scotland.
Roy Greenslade, Professor of Journalism, City University London, a former editor of the Daily Mirror and a media commentator for The Guardian:
The most popular of newspapers eventually become unpopular. They have their day and then sadly fade away – a lesson drawn from the 120-year history of Britain’s mass market press.
It has happened to the once-dominant Daily Mirror and to Lord Beaverbrook’s formerly triumphant Daily Express.
And it has happened to the Daily Record, which was Scotland’s best-selling daily title for so long.
Though some of the reasons for these papers’ rises and falls differ, the most striking aspect is the similarities. They built their giant sales by harnessing technical superiority to an editorial formula that encapsulated the desires of their audiences.
Then, having become so-called iconic institutions with an appearance of impregnability, they found it impossible to adapt to changes within the societies they served.
One key part of their winning formula, even if only at an unconscious level, was political. The papers reflected the views and aspirations of their working class readers.
In the Record’s case, as with the Mirror, it meant a slavish support for the Labour Party.
For years, that worked. But changes, within the party and to audience demography, gradually eroded the audience’s loyalty to Labour.
While the Record maintained the faith, preaching to an increasingly sceptical readership, the vibrant Scottish editions of The Sun and the Daily Mail were seen as less politically hidebound.
In a strange way, the Record is a victim of another political and cultural anachronism.
The creation of a Scottish parliament and the consequent rise of the nationalist party – rather than nationalism itself – does not appear to have resulted in a “little Scotlander” mentality.
What the Record failed to grasp is that it is possible to be nationalistic and internationalistic at the same time.
Iain Gray, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party:
Walter Cronkite, the American broadcaster, once famously conceded that while his TV show skimmed the headlines, to get a more complete view of the news you had to read newspapers.
Despite their decline since then, this is even more the case today in the digital age.
There may be a deluge of information with the internet, Twitter and 24-hour TV news cycles, but newspapers are still the best source for in-depth coverage, analysis and investigative journalism.
That is why Trinity Mirror’s announcement last week was a massive blow to Scottish journalism. The Daily Record has iconic status in Scottish life. It may not be the mighty paper it was, but then none is.
A cut of almost 40% of editorial staff looks like a vote of no confidence in the industry by one of its main players.
We should all fear the decline of Scottish newspaper industry because of its vital role in a healthy democracy, holding government to account. Other news media can do it, but not as well. Only newspapers provide the whole range of coverage, from first-person pieces to the satire of the cartoonist, via news, analysis and the columnist.
As a Labour politician I am naturally concerned. In what has always been a politically partisan market – albeit skewed to the right – the Record and the Sunday Mail were the lone Labour voices.
Such political imbalance was, I would argue, never healthy. It is hard to see it getting better. That’s not good for newspapers and it is not good for Scotland
Elain C Smith, actor and activist:
The news of the savage cuts at The Record and Sunday Mail are sad for all journalists and a massive blow for the newspaper industry in Scotland. A vital skill base is being eroded yet again – an erosion that has gone on for certainly the last 10 years or more.
It raises questions about where we get our news about our own country anymore. How much do we know about what really goes on in the Borders or Aberdeen?
We have such centralised news gathering in Glasgow and Edinburgh already. These cuts and further erosion will only make that centralisation worse – and that centralisation will be from London.
Having spent a lot of time in England, I am aware that news about Scotland in ANY of their papers is practically non existent.
So where are our young journalists going to learn their trade in their own country then? We have always suffered as a country because much of our talent has had to leave and go south to train and climb a career ladder, and this I believe feeds into a sense of ourselves that we are not quite good enough. The fact that certain newspapers and parties based in London believe that people living, working and choosing to be in Scotland are in effect the B team does nothing to help our national sense of ourselves. These cuts will only reinforce these attitudes.
What is taking place now is brutal, and bad for this country in the long run.
Factors such as the internet and new media have taken their toll on all newspapers. The big groups such as Trinity Mirror didn’t adapt quickly enough and the approach of simply cutting jobs is wrong.
The Record and Sunday Mail have not adjusted to the changing nature of their Scottish base. As the political landscape has changed, their readership has left the Labourite, scaremongering agenda behind – and the papers haven’t caught up.
Being more Scots – and not that awful macho ‘Wha’s like us’ tartan tawdry nonsense – but dealing seriously with Scottish issues and becoming part of the fabric of Scottish society in a meaningful way may help a great deal.
First Minister Alex Salmond:
The fact that there are huge pressures on the newspaper industry is well known, but that should not be allowed to obscure the extraordinary scale of the job losses being proposed at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail.
These papers are rightly regarded as hugely important Scottish institutions, and should be part of a vibrant and flourishing media sector in Scotland.
As I said in my comments to MSPs on this issue on Thursday, while I may not always have seen eye to eye with the Daily Record’s editorial stance over the years, I recognise the important contribution it and its sister title have made and continue to make to our national life. In the short term, the Scottish Government’s dedicated team of employment advice specialists has been activated to give assistance to the journalists affected.
But in the longer term, Scotland needs as much homegrown news, current affairs and sports coverage as possible – whether in print, online or on the airwaves – and a vital, healthy Daily Record and Sunday Mail should be part of that media mix.
Joan McAlpine, former newspaper executive and new SNP MSP:
The decline of newspapers is not just a Scottish problem. The shift of both readers and advertisers to the internet is hurting the industry everywhere. However, Scottish public life, culture and indeed our democracy rely disproportionately on print newspapers.
We are very poorly served by public sector broadcasting compared to the rest of the UK, particularly in news and current affairs. It is newspapers that have broken stories and led debate. The Daily Record is not the most radical or imaginative publication, but it is a national institution with a commitment to the core values of fairness and human decency.
Newspapers in Scotland are foreign owned by media groups with little sense of the country as a nation. They view their titles as provincial, refuse to invest in journalism and so run down the quality even further.
It is also worth asking whether the accelerated decline in newspaper readership in Scotland might be due to the fact that, in recent years, they have been editorially indifferent to attempts to improve Scotland’s position in the UK and the world, and openly hostile to independence. This puts them at odds with their readers, and potential readers, who are interested in Scottish issues and so are motivated to favour a Scottish publication. Investment in Scottish newspaper internet sites is poor, so increasing numbers of young readers go to non-Scottish sites for their news and entertainment. Culturally, this is of concern.
It means a lack of public space – and indeed cyberspace – to discuss what is happening in our country, celebrate its distinctiveness and share ideas about its future. This is why the Scottish parliament should have control over broadcasting. We also need at least one newspaper in the hands of philanthropic owners who are committed to the country, as well being prepared to invest in quality journalism.
Brian McNair, a former professor of journalism at the University of Strathclyde, and currently professor of journalism at Queensland University:
Record editor-in-chief Bruce Waddell appealed to the wider economy as justification for the latest job losses, but the decline in the Daily Record began a long time ago, before the credit crunch, and before the internet really began to challenge the print business model. It’s five years this July since The Sun overtook the Daily Record’s circulation in Scotland.
The Sun’s steady rise over a period of two decades, and the Record’s decline, reflected decline in Labour’s core demographic in the West of Scotland, and the fact that Murdoch’s red top was, to be honest, a better product.
The Record simply hasn’t been up to the challenge, and these job losses are the latest evidence of that. The Mirror in England has gone the same way.
Will the paper’s predicament affect the health of Scottish political culture and debate? I doubt it. The Record will struggle on with a reduced work force, may even thrive with a new business plan. I sincerely hope so. To lose the title would damage editorial diversity in the Scottish media landscape.