MacMillan's Media Monitor

By The Drum, Administrator

August 13, 2004 | 6 min read

Arthur MacMillan

On the face of it, the move beggars belief. As editor of the Daily Record, Peter Cox managed to alienate both sides of Glasgow’s Old Firm, shedding thousands of sales in the process. This in turn infuriated key advertisers and frustrated many talented staff. It was an all-too-damaging triple-whammy that eventually culminated in Cox’s sacking from the paper last year. Yet the Londoner is only days away from his return to Scottish journalism.

By taking up an assistant editor’s post at the Scottish Sun, on Monday 16 August, Cox will understandably be keen to put the recent past behind him. But the task will be all the more difficult, given that, soon after he left the Record, Cox is believed to have approached the Sun, only to be told in no uncertain terms that his services were not required.

What Scottish Sun editor Rob Dalton, who was on holiday at time of writing, has made of the subsequent U-turn is unclear, but two well-placed news executives tell me he had no say in the matter. “You’ll have to speak to Rob about it,” was as close as I got to a response from the Sun’s Kinning Park headquarters, upon asking what the paper’s staff think – and expect – of their latest recruit. But what was strange was that no-one at the paper, nor at News International’s corporate affairs office, was willing to put forward the case for Cox’s defence. Maybe the memory of that “Thugs and Thieves” headline accompanying the Record’s now rescinded claims about Celtic players’ bad behaviour is just too strong to justify red carpet treatment at his new place of work.

So, the Scotsman is going compact after all. Who would have predicted a year ago that the Herald would be Scotland’s last surviving national broadsheet daily? The Independent’s pioneering decision to offer a smaller newspaper was a bold and necessary move to increase circulation. It worked. The Scotsman’s Saturday compact has also seen in uplift in sales but it hasn’t been quite as successful as the Indy. Time will tell but the decision to downsize could re-open the debate over the Herald’s broadsheet format. If the Glasgow paper followed suit it would be the last big-selling Scottish broadsheet to do so, following the Press and Journal’s Saturday compact launch last week. Being last to join a bandwagon rarely aids performance. And why should the Herald offer a compact edition? From Monday it will stand alone as Scotland’s only national daily broadsheet newspaper; by doing nothing it has found its own unique marketplace. Only the months ahead will show if it suffers from its competitors’ diversification.

Back to the Press and Journal, which must still be the most misunderstood newspaper in Scotland. Looked down on by many central-belt journalists as a “parochial” product, confined to the north of the country, its local news pages help it sell more copies than the Herald or the Scotsman. Yet the P&J still carries the main national and international news stories every day. When editors harp on about readers getting the same content in a different format, they leave themselves open to criticism if they don’t make good their promise. The first compact P&J, apart from the smaller size, certainly looked no different from the broadsheet paper sold on other days of the week; typefaces and page formats were unaltered. This is a good thing when anxious not to upset loyal customers but it’s unlikely to be helpful if you’re looking to pick up buyers at the promiscuous end of the market, who want something extra. However, as the P&J sells less on Saturday than other days, going compact must be worth a punt. “If it is a disaster, which I am sure it won’t be, it would be a very short trial,” the P&J editor, Derek Tucker, was quoted as saying. As Scotland’s longest-serving major newspaper editor, it is good to see that Tucker is far from complacent about his paper’s future.

It’s not often that a big newspaper job comes up in Scotland so I expect it was inevitable that the rumour mill would crank up a gear following The Drum’s interview with Sunday Herald editor Andrew Jaspan. But amid the plethora of names mentioned as successors, the same three keep coming round again and again: Richard Walker, Kevin McKenna and Joan McAlpine. Tim Blott, the MD of Newsquest (Herald) conducted first interviews last week and Walker, McKenna and McAlpine are all believed to have made their pitch for the job. It won’t be a shoe-in but, as a regional newspaper publisher, Newsquest is seen as a relatively conservative organisation in favour of incremental change, a strategy that could favour internal applicants. But while Blott is anxious to hear the ideas of outsiders, the decision to advertise Jaspan’s job was greeted with laughter by one senior newspaper executive, who said: “Does Tim really expect people from rival newspapers to bombard him with ideas that he can then rip off as soon as he’s rejected them for the job? He might as well ask them for their current newspaper’s budget plan as well.”

Although rumours of Jaspan’s successor will inevitably circulate, last week’s Scotland on Sunday news item regarding former Scotsman deputy editor John Mullin’s chances of securing the job was remarkable in its brevity. “[Mullin] has declined to comment on speculation linking him with a return to Scotland to edit the Sunday Herald,” was the top line in a three-paragraph “story” straight from the no-shit Sherlock school of journalism. Did the poor unfortunate who had to phone Mullin, currently executive editor of the Independent, really expect him to say, “Oh yes, I was interviewed last week, actually. I think I really impressed that Blott bloke,” or something of equivalent force? Given that he would instantly blow his chances out of the water by doing so, I doubt it. When you don’t have anything new to report it’s best not to pretend otherwise.


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