Industry Future Subject of BBC Scotland Investigation

The future of the Scottish newspaper industry – in the wake of a brainstorming seminar hosted a couple of weeks ago by Scottish enterprise minister, Jim Mather MSP – was the subject of an investigation on yesterday’s BBC Scotland’s Politics Show.

Watch it here, including the live, studio debate involving former Scottish Sun editor, Steve Sampson; former editor, Stewart Kirkpatrick; and former Scotsman editor, John McGurk.

Once clicked in, scroll towards the 1:14.18 mark in the programme.

Comment: This BBC item was a very good and fair exposition of the Scottish newspaper industry’s problems, and highly prophetic, given today’s news from Trinity Mirror. I never thought I’d see myself agree with both John McGurk AND Steve Sampson on an issue, but all three contributors made salient points about the way ahead – get away from the bottom line mentality, provide distinctive quality content, target your readership, supply them with what they want, both on the web and in print. Back to basics, anyone?

Steve’s point about schoolkids effectively said that young people were not being educated to read newspapers – how very true, so what is the industry doing about it? A few soppy ‘kids features’ is just not the way to target increasingly sophisticated teenagers. We need to take youngsters seriously as future customers, and that is just not happening at the moment. Neglect the future and you’re doomedm anyway.

Stewart also hit right to the heart of our current problems – how will newspapers make money on the web? The answer is ‘very slowly’, and that is not going to be good enough for the plc beancounters.

I don’t know how the profit-earning process on the internet can be accelerated, but I do know this: that established brands, both national and local, have an advantage in the internet age. It is an advantage gained by past journalistic excellence and a record of genuine service to the community, qualities which should not be neglected lightly in the dash for web cash. Indeed, I would say they are the only resources which can ensure the survival of many titles.

My fear is that the shareholders and the accountants will not have patience and will demand more cuts to maintain their precious returns, and thus damage titles beyond recall. And Scottish titles do go bust – remember the Citizen, Sunday Standard, Business AM?

At some point, someone is going to have to point out to the capitalists and their lackeys that the world has changed. Profits will come – indeed, this is still a profitable industry. But investors need to take a long-term view of a changing situation. So, if you want quick bucks, get out of newspapers, and sell your interests to those with the sagacity to play the long game.

In the meantime, as a short term help, the Scottish Government might suggest to local authorities that placing adverts in newspapers must continue, as Ed Balls said in Westminster last month. It is a matter of fairness – not everyone gets their information online yet, not by a long chalk.

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