BAFTA-award winning documentary-maker Sarah Howitt, pictured, has been a familiar face in the offices of The Herald and Herald on Sunday over the past year. Howitt and her team spent over six months curating a fly-on-the-wall documentary series for the BBC that focused on the day-to-day reality of life at the paper and its sister titles the Evening Times and The National.

There are ups and downs as Newsquest, the papers’ parent company, threw open its doors and gave the filming team unfiltered access to life in the office.

In an age bloated with fake news and a lack of trust in the mainstream media in some areas of society, Howitt’s documentary The Papers provides a warts-and-all, transparent depiction of the modern news industry.

So, how did all of this come about?

“A year ago we approached [editor-in-chief] Donald Martin and asked if he would be open to us making a documentary about the papers that are made in this room,” Howitt explained. “The idea was that we would spend six months here.

“Of course, we all know that the future of newspapers is a big question mark in the digital age and we thought that was something that would inevitably be of interest to people. So we approached Donald and it all unfolded from there.”

The Papers spends time focusing on a few individual journalists to give a realistic depiction of what their working day is like; an approach that Howitt believes highlights just how much these people care about what they do.

“When I first came here, I saw just how committed people are to doing what they do every day,” she said. “It’s not an easy job being a journalist – I learned that to my detriment because I had to stay up just as long as you guys stay every day – and so to show that in spite of all the challenges that newspapers face, people are still working really, really hard.

“When deciding who to spend time with and invest time in, we hung out in the newsroom. When I chatted to [senior reporter for The Herald] Cat Stewart at the beginning I asked ‘what do you do in your week, what happens?’ and she said ‘I do this and I do that, and on a Wednesday night I work late every week to write my column’.

“Immediately, I think ‘well, that’s something different, something that I can make something of and I will see something happening’.

“Kirsty [Anderson] was a no-brainer, it was easy to decide to go out with Kirsty. We wanted to go out with a photographer and we got to know Kirsty a little bit. She’s just fantastic. And there was an element of the fact that she is one of the only women doing that job in Scotland.”

While Howitt admits that there could be more representation for women in senior roles, she pointed out that steps are being made in the right direction.

She said: “It’s getting better – I think television production is maybe slightly better than print media – but there’s a lot of women and really fantastic female journalists in this newsroom.

“Donald and the editors are aware of it and I understand it’s a difficult thing to change – and it’s a particularly difficult thing to change in an environment that requires these horrendous hours.

“I’m sure there’s nobody in that room who wouldn’t like to see it change. How do you make the hours more hospitable?

“And it’s not just about that – that applies to men too, actually. It’s hard for people and it’s not just about children. It’s about having a life. If you’re here until 11, 11.30 at night, it’s bloody difficult to have a life, isn’t it?

“That’s the problem. We are all so dedicated to what we do that you just accept it and do it.”

Howitt’s team was filming during a crucial period for The Herald. A new digital strategy was launched, and resources were being redirected to grow multimedia content to host online.

“As it happened, the strategy towards digital changed during our time here,” Howitt said. “So we saw change, we saw striving towards change. The trouble is that in order to change you need resources and it was always about moving the resources around, rather than having more.

“I believe things are improving but we could see how hard it was.”

Ultimately, Howitt believes in the importance of journalism and hopes that viewers of The Papers will understand that in order to get informed, quality news, consumers must pay.

“[The main takeaway for viewers] is to buy a newspaper,” Howitt adds.

“What I learned here was that people are enormously committed and they care that journalism continues to exist. But there’s no question that it’s at risk because somebody has to keep investing in it.

“If we want to keep having good, trustworthy journalism then we have to pay for it and that’s the bottom line.”