The Scottish press in freefall?

It’s no secret that the Scottish media is going through a particularly tough time at the moment. In a sense, the past decade or so can probably be described as one long tough time. Job cuts have been piled upon job cuts. With sales plummeting, advertising revenues shrinking and the uncertain world of new media, the credit crunch is simply the icing on the cake.

Just yesterday it was announced that seventy jobs at Trinity Mirror will go once production of the Daily Record and the Sunday Mail merges into a single operation. That amounts to a quarter of editorial staff.

The state of the Scottish press was one of the subjects discussed on Newsnight Scotland yesterday (from 18:07). BBC Scotland’s business and economy editor Douglas Fraser (himself a former Herald journalist) noted that when The Herald and the Sunday Herald did something similar, more people requested redundancy than the Herald Group was actually looking for. On his blog he wrote:

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

It’s worth remembering also that last year staff at those newspapers held strikes in protest at cuts. But it might not be just the Herald group of newspapers which has become a more difficult place to work. Costs at all newspapers are constantly being cut, but the newspapers are churning out just as much content as before. If anything, they are producing more content as a result of the 24 hour news cycle, and the need to keep websites constantly updated.

Today I have received an email informing me that North Lanarkshire Council has (presumably accidentally) published details of shortlisted candidates for the role of Head of Corporate Communications and Marketing. The job went to Stephen Penman, who used to be deputy editor of the Sunday Herald.

I am reluctant to elaborate too far further in case it annoys any of the people concerned. But the list has been published publicly, albeit without forenames, so you may be able to join the dots. My informant seems certain that the list contains a number of big names from various newspapers and public affairs firms.

No doubt the job of Head of Communications at a local council tends to attract candidates with a background in journalism and public affairs. But the calibre of these applicants is quite striking. There is an Associate Editor for the Scottish version of a major UK-wide newspaper; Group Content Editor for a major Scottish newspaper group; possibly Group Political Editor for a national newspaper group and a columnist for a Scottish newspaper. There is also at least one person, and maybe two, who currently work for private sector public affairs / PR companies.

Whatever you make of it, it has spurred someone to email me. He says: “Considering these names there is a rush to get out of the dead tree press and the private sector and into the safe harbour of the public sector.”

It’s pretty clear that the Scottish press is in turmoil just now. With devolution, there is more politics going on than there used to be, and it is the media’s job to keep on top of it. But ever since devolution, Scottish papers have increasingly struggled to make ends meet in the face of the internet revolution. The government is stronger, but the media is weaker — and that’s a dangerous situation to be in.

It seems likely that this town ain’t big enough for both The Scotsman and The Herald. Many see it as a foregone conclusion that both papers will be dead before long unless something radical is done. Recently Stewart Kirkpatrick, former editor of, wrote a blog post on what such radical action may look like.

With the latest news coming from Trinity Mirror, it looks as though Scotland’s main tabloid newspaper will similarly struggle. It seems as though even in the best case scenario for the Scottish media, a lot more jobs are going to go and the Scottish press is going to be a lot weaker.


  1. Nothing like job security for media hacks in this environment. So much of Scottish journalism is crap. I am curious if you will notice any difference in the sensationalist sector of the press if you lose a quarter of the journalists.

    Pretty disastrous here in Australia. Fairfax lost gazillions this week. That will put pressure on good titles like the Age.

  2. There’s a smaller chill going round the TV journos too, what with jobs going at Pacific Quay and STV losing one of their senior political correspondents (Michael Crow) to the Scottish Tory PR machine.

  3. In some respects I’m not surprised circulation figures are in free-fall. The Scotsman has gone from being a well written and informative read to an emotive tabloid with all the depth of a puddle.

    The Herald, though I read it less frequently, seems much the same.

  4. Graeme — Yup, it seems to be a similar case with television. The politics output of STV was poor anyway in my view, even prior to Michael Crow’s departure. Only Newsnight Scotland is worth watching in my view, so we can be thankful it’s on four times a week!

    Jim — Agreed. Every time I start reading The Scotsman I struggle to stay awake.

  5. It’s unreal isn’t it. It seems as though they have taken it down now, but I wonder how on earth it got uploaded in the first place.