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MacMillan's Media Monitor

By The Drum | Administrator

September 24, 2004 | 6 min read

STV's footy team

There’s been a bit of swagger among the Scottish press in recent weeks. The Herald has launched a campaign to stop hospital closures, the Scotsman and the Scottish Sun, have proved how easily terrorists could target the Scottish Parliament, and the Sunday Mail has published another investigation into the activities of an alleged crime boss, despite attempts in the courts to stop it from doing so.

This is good to see. “Expect the unexpected” is a better editorial mantra than “yesterday’s news tomorrow”. All of these papers have touched on stories that interest readers but, more importantly, it shows the importance of looking beyond the daily diary of Scottish news.

The Herald has grasped the fact that, despite politicians boasting that more money than ever before is being spent on health, local hospitals remain under persistent attack and threat of closure. Detailed coverage of the issue has cut through the government pretence that centralisation of services will ultimately benefit patients. It won’t. Many people will be worse off and we know that because a newspaper has allowed them to tell us so. In Edinburgh, Scotsman reporters only had to walk down Holyrood Road to get their story. Within minutes they proved how people paid from the public purse to protect a £440m building are not fit to guard a whelk stall. Another good story. The Sunday Mail’s disclosures, meanwhile, are the latest example of uncompromising, traditional red-top tabloid journalism that the paper sells itself on. Once again, despite considerable pressure, the threat of censure did not stop Sunday Mail editor Allan Rennie from backing his reporters’ instincts. Others would have capitulated at the first sign of trouble.

THE SCOTSMAN will undoubtedly be buoyed by August’s uplift in sales, about 11per cent, attributed to the paper turning compact six days a week. A short-term sales boost is always welcome, although keeping sales up is notoriously difficult. However, Scotsman Publications is trying its hardest to promote the compact’s appeal to those who find broadsheets unwieldy. On driving through the Borders last week, not one town I passed was exempt from the marketing banners used to promote the paper’s new format. Television adverts continue to run throughout the week and this has not gone unnoticed by rival newspaper groups.

During one commercial break last week no fewer than five newspapers tried to persuade viewers to part with their cash. They were clearly aware of the Scotsman’s strategy and had decided to respond. Only when sales figures are released next month will any winners and losers from the latest promotional blitz emerge.

SO, WHEN the hysteria that has accompanied talk of Andrew Jaspan’s successor finally ended, with the appointment of Richard Walker as the new Sunday Herald editor two weeks ago, months of speculation were resigned to history. On release of the news some were keen to bask in the glory of 20/20 hindsight, claiming that it was inevitable Walker would become the new boss. Nothing was inevitable. It was a close-run thing, where not only Herald deputy editor Joan McAlpine but also other senior journalists impressed Newsquest (Herald & Times) managing director Tim Blott, when pitching for the job. But Walker, a very experienced and incredibly popular journalist among his peers, got the nod. Seen as the man who has driven the Sunday Herald’s production for the past five years, Walker is now looking forward to driving the newspaper’s agenda. “The paper is Richard’s life,” one of his closest colleagues said, on hearing of Walker’s appointment. For anyone who knows how dedicated Walker has been to the Sunday Herald, it is hard to envisage him as editor working any harder but, if anyone can do so, it is him.

With the news that John McLellan is to leave the editorship of Scotland on Sunday to return to the Edinburgh Evening News, the dynamic of an intense rivalry between the two papers will also be interesting to monitor. Walker is known to want to appoint a new deputy editor at the Sunday Herald before the end of the month and both these Sunday newspapers will soon be driven by different people. The timetable for a new editor at Scotland on Sunday seems less clear but, given McLellan’s unforeseen move, management is unlikely to dither. Scotsman managing director Steven Walker and editorial director John McGurk have several talented executives to choose from within the company but they are bound to want to consider outside candidates. Scotland on Sunday has the advantage of being the market leader in the Scottish quality Sunday market, but Walker will want to challenge this. Get ready for Scotland on Sunday v Sunday Herald, round two.

I HAD been meaning to watch it for weeks but possibly the worst promo I have ever seen somehow finally persuaded me to watch Scottish Television’s Monday night SPL football league highlights programme last week. Julyan Sinclair looked more like Julian Clary than a football programme presenter when pouting at the camera during the advert. It is not quirky, it is not stylish, and it is certainly not original. Instead, it is eerily similar to those limp ITV1 trailers where newsreaders and soap actors look extremely uncomfortable for far too long. Fortunately, the new show was nowhere near as bad as its billing.

We got seven minutes (and three goals) of Celtic, six minutes (no goals) of Rangers and two minutes for each game involving the designated minnows of top-flight Scottish football. The combination of punditry and features that composed the remainder of the programme was OK. But bin the terraces please. Perhaps a seat would make the audience appear a little more comfortable than their bemused, uncomfortable faces suggest they currently feel.

FOLLOWING the last edition of this column, the editor of the Herald, Mark Douglas-Home, would like to clarify that it is the policy of Newsquest, owners of the Herald, Sunday Herald, and Evening Times, that editors conduct pay talks of behalf of Newsquest management.

Consequently, Mr Douglas-Home is leading pay talks regarding the National Union of Journalists’ house agreement on behalf of his fellow editors, Charles McGhee, of the Evening Times, and Richard Walker, of the Sunday Herald. We are happy to clarify this.

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