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By The Drum, Administrator

January 28, 2004 | 6 min read

The Daily Telegraph and the Scotsman: soon to be sisters?

In recent weeks, the life of a media journalist has been an especially busy one. With changes in media ownership laws, speculation on the future of every major media company in the country has been rife. But even so, last month’s announcement that Sirs David and Frederick Barclay, the business magnates who own the Ritz Hotel in London and the Littlewoods empire, as well as The Scotsman Publications, are set to take over Hollinger International, publisher of the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph, took many somewhat by surprise.

It also kicked off a fresh round of speculation, both north and south of the border, as to what impact this will have on both media sectors.

At time of going to press, the deal itself was far from final, but with no obvious regulatory problems, a pocket full of money and endorsement by Hollinger owner Lord Black himself, it seems doubtful the brothers Barclay won’t be successful.

In Scotland this raises an interesting question: what impact, if any, will there be on Scotsman Publications?

“I find it very, very hard to believe there will be any kind of an impact whatsoever,” says Giles Brooksbank, director of Feather Brooksbank. “This is a Scottish national newspaper based in Scotland. If there are any business opportunities available between the two papers then it will be something the management teams of each paper have to sit down and discuss, to see if there’s any commercial benefit to it. But I find it very hard to believe there will be any impact. I think it unlikely that they’re going to infringe on any OFCOM regulations. It’s based in Scotland, and that’s it.”

Roy Greenslade, media commentator for the Guardian, believes that the lack of crossover between the papers will ensure the Scottish paper doesn’t suffer. He says: “The Telegraph is not big in Scotland. I wouldn’t imagine the impact would be big for the Scotsman. In fact, there may even be some sharing in terms of foreign correspondents, newsprint buying, office space etc., which would reduce the cost base of the Scotsman. I can’t see a down side for the Scotsman.”

One of the obvious questions, when the story first surfaced, was whether or not the Barclays would sell off their Scotsman stable when they have the bigger Hollinger group under their belts. Colin McClatchie, general manager at News International Scotland, thinks that the same lack of crossover makes this doubtful. “I’ve been surprised at the amount of speculation that they will have to get rid of the Scotsman,” he says. “If you add the Scotsman’s circulation on to the Telegraph’s down south, it hardly makes a difference, and the same can be said of adding the Telegraph’s Scottish circulation to the Scotsman’s. So I don’t think they will be forced to. The main question is, whether they would want to, and again I can’t see why they would. Why would they want to sell the Scotsman just because they have a national broadsheet under their wing? I would be asking whether or not there was a synergy between the two titles.”

Kenny Kemp, former business editor of the Sunday Herald and now a freelance business writer, reckons the only reason for a sale would be to recoup some of the money spent on the £260m Hollinger deal. He comments: “You might speculate that they might need to sell the Scotsman papers to finance the costs. On the other hand, we know so little about the Barclay Brothers’ deep pockets that we don’t know how they’re financing the deal. I read somewhere that they are financing it through reserve funds. There may also be some synergies between the two titles that they could explore.”

So it looks like the Scottish titles in the Barclay stable may be safe. But what about the Telegraph itself? The opinions on the Barclay brothers as newspaper owners are somewhat mixed. The Scotsman has been through a rough period over the past few years and, though it is back in profit, circulation is still down.

Kemp says: “They’re really property developers rather than newspaper tycoons. The history of the Scotsman has been pretty woeful, really. I think they’ll need to rely on national newspaper people to run the Telegraph. It’s going to be interesting to know what they’ll do, whether they’ll throw money at it or whatever. They had a reputation for doing that when they took over the Scotsman and they did invest a lot of money. But after the circulation fell away again questions were asked about whether they had invested in the right places, that maybe they should have spent more money on quality journalism.”

Much has been speculated about the role that Scotsman Publications publisher Andrew Neil will play in the Hollinger papers when the deal is complete. Neil is famous for being enthusiastically involved with the titles he publishes, even to the point of influencing editorial content. But it has been reported that, so far, he has not been involved with the Hollinger negotiations.

Greenslade says: “The Barclays have a reputation for not greatly interfering with papers, but Andrew Neil is very interfering. Will they give it to him to play with? It’s really a question of Andrew Neil’s role as much as the Barclays.

“His reputation is one of editorial interference. He can’t help himself. It doesn’t mean he’s all bad, but it does mean he’s over editors telling them what to write and you must take that into consideration when deciding whether the Barclays are good owners or not.”

Kemp agrees, commenting: “It’s been reported that he wasn’t privy to the negotiations, so that might mean his star is on the wane. But it’s never right to underestimate Andrew Neil. He’s quite a character in UK journalism.”

At what is no doubt a nervous time for the employees of the Hollinger titles, it looks as though the Scotsman and its Edinburgh sister-titles are safe for the time being. If, as looks likely, the deal goes through successfully, hopefully, the Barclays, the staff and, most importantly, the readers, will all have cause to celebrate.

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