Analysis: Spotlight on Scotland media industry

Scottish newspaper headlines

The Daily Record, and its sister paper the Sunday Mail, plan to shed 90 jobs - half of its editorial staff. Non-Scottish content at the Glasgow-based titles will be shared with other Mirror group titles.

It represents the latest jobs blow for Scotland's newspaper industry. Here, two BBC Scotland correspondents look at the state of the country's media business.

Douglas Fraser BBC Scotland's business and economy editor Douglas Fraser on how papers need to be smarter at keeping and growing their readership Jamie McIvor BBC Scotland correspondent Jamie McIvor on the changing face of the country's TV, radio and newspapers
  • Ninety jobs lost is no big deal by the standards of this downturn.
  • But the impact of the cuts at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail is a genuine shock, reverberating through an industry that has become used to waves of job-shedding.
  • These titles were the mighty titans of Scottish journalism until relatively recently.
  • Although the editor says the changes, mainly affecting features and magazines, will allow more focus on Scottish news and Scottish sport, the risk is that they turn these papers into localised editions of London titles.
  • That, as it happens, is precisely the model used by the Scottish edition of the Sun, which has overtaken The Record to become Scotland's biggest-selling daily. So The Record's move is not doomed to failure, but it's hardly being done from a position of strength.
  • And while Scotland's distinct newsprint media can take a lot of credit for building up the national identity that led to home rule, the Scottish Parliament's arrival and now the move towards a vote on independence is being accompanied by the forced retreat of those papers.
  • Plenty of nationalists will be pleased to see some of their toughest newsprint critics humbled, but it means the public space for a debate about the nation's future is being diminished by this industry-wide process.
  • Losing 37% of the Glasgow-based titles' editorial staff looks like it was intended to have impact. Their owners, Mirror Group newspapers, are taking the risk of provoking a response from a heavily unionised workforce.
  • But it may have calculated that such impact is needed to impress shareholders that the company is serious about cost-cutting, having already made some of the industry's biggest waves by its job-shedding at London titles the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and the People.
  • The newspaper industry is fiercely competitive. Scotland probably has more national titles chasing readers than any other market in the world.
  • But rivalry is set aside when these cuts take place, as a once-proud industry sees its foundations eroded with no plan for recovery. It's The Record and Sunday Mail this week, but no-one knows who will face cuts next week.
  • The reasons are well rehearsed. Digital technology allows for newspapers to be produced ever more efficiently. Much of the work can be done far from the readership base.
  • And the market is going through a fundamental change such as the newspaper industry hasn't seen for, well, several centuries.
  • Although their product is fresh every day, newspapers seem particularly bad at dealing with more fundamental change.
  • They have had little need to face change in the past. The product - printed news, comment and advertising - would be recognisable even to someone from the 17th century London coffee houses.
  • So the migration of readers to the internet, where people expect to get their news, sport and comment for free, has severely undermined the business model.
  • And while Rupert Murdoch's News International pioneers a shift towards a paid-for model for its news websites, but struggles to do so, it's not clear anyone has a workable alternative to sustain the significant costs of journalism.
  • One source in that Murdoch stable points the way to newspapers getting much smarter about getting to know their readers.
  • That would be quite a change. Traditionally, newspapers are produced largely on the editor's hunch of the readers' preferences. Market surveys have been rare, not all that meaningful, and often ignored.
  • But other businesses - notably, in big retail - are showing you can create rich databases of information about customers, with which to target their needs and preferences.
  • While it's common to find my former colleagues in newspapers despairing about their future, becoming smarter at marketing and understanding customers could be at least one signpost to the future.
  • The job cuts at the Daily Record may be seen as part of a far bigger picture - the huge changes that have taken place across the whole of the Scottish media in recent years as the UK-wide media's influence in Scotland has extended through a number of distinct developments.
  • Let's not be sentimental. The whole of the mainstream media apart from the BBC is a business. Whatever noble aspirations some may genuinely hold, it has to be commercially viable to exist. Any well-run business never stands still. It knows it has to change as market conditions change.
  • Over the past 20 years or so, technology has changed things considerably.
  • Go back to the early 90s. The newspaper market was dominated by the indigenous Scottish press - The Record, The Herald and The Scotsman.
  • All were then owned outside Scotland - The Record and the Daily Mirror have been sister papers for half a century - but all these papers were distinct products aimed squarely at Scottish readers with Scots in day-to-day command.
  • Only The Sun and the Daily Express - the remnants of the original Scottish Daily Express which was published until the mid 70s - made serious attempts to win readers here.
  • If you wanted to advertise on the radio, the only way to do this was through the local stations like Radio Clyde and Radio Forth.
  • And if you wanted to advertise on the television, STV and the other regional ITV stations were the only game in town - they were also responsible for the adverts on Channel 4 then.
  • Today, the whole of the Scottish commercial media faces tough competition and has adapted to these challenges.
  • UK-wide commercial radio stations like Classic FM and Absolute exist as do "quasi national" stations like Capital and Smooth FM which provide some Scottish content but take most of their output from south of the border.
  • The long-established Scottish commercial stations started to share most of their programmes on medium wave and some on FM, moving in the direction of becoming defacto Scottish national stations behind local brand names.
  • A radical move which attracted little public comment.
  • While STV is the most popular commercial TV station in Scotland, other channels account for the vast bulk of commercial viewing. None of them provide any programmes aimed specifically at Scottish viewers and only Channels 4 and 5 have the capacity to broadcast separate Scottish advertising.
  • Again the public does not seem to mind - they voted with their remote controls - even if they may also make comments about the quality or quantity of programmes made here.
  • As for newspapers, it seems hard to argue that Scots are instinctively hostile to reading Scottish editions of UK papers instead of so-called indigenous titles - they seem more concerned about whether they are getting Scottish news.
  • The top-selling Scottish Sun would claim to be a distinct Scottish paper which can tap into the content of the London paper and gain economies of scale.
  • The same could be said of the Scottish Daily Mail which is by far the most popular title aimed at a more middle class readership - it outsells The Herald and The Scotsman combined.
  • Meanwhile Scottish editions of The Times and the Daily Telegraph have won readers and influence although The Herald and The Scotsman, despite a substantial drop in sales, still lead the quality market.
  • While job cuts may be bad news for journalists and broadcasters, what of the people they serve?
  • At the end of the day, a mainstream business will try to do what it believes to be right for its shareholders and customers.
  • Some within the media, and other commentators, may dislike developments within recent years but the real test is the public's reaction.
  • The question now is whether the Daily Record's sales will hold up after the proposed changes take effect. Or will they turn out to be a false economy?

More on This Story

Related Stories

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external Internet sites

More Scotland stories

RSS

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.