MacMillan's Media Monitor

By The Drum | Administrator

December 2, 2004 | 6 min read

Gordon Macmillan faces a big challenge when he starts work as Scottish Television’s head of news and current affairs on December 15. Many journalists are unhappy about pay disparities among staff, shift patterns and a lack of leadership from the top. Pay talks between STV and the National Union of Journalists, scheduled to end this month, are also at a sensitive stage.

Most staff anticipated an internal appointment, the favourite being Henry Eagles, the former Grampian TV head of news and current affairs, currently running STV’s Premier League football highlights programme. They instead learned on 18 November that Macmillan, previously the European PR man for the Clydesdale Bank, was to become their new boss.

Given the apparent friction between management and Paul McKinney, who left the senior news post suddenly in October, staff should have seen an external appointment coming, according to a former news executive who worked with Macmillan at the BBC.

“Bobby Hain [STV’s managing director] probably thought he was more likely to get the changes he’s looking for by bringing in someone not already part of the STV newsroom culture,” the source said. “It was a no-brainer.”

Macmillan’s big challenge will be to create better programmes with a limited budget. “It is already a fairly low cost news operation but Gordon has got a lot of experience and that would’ve been attractive to SMG,” the source added.

Macmillan’s broadcasting background is impressive. After joining the BBC as a graduate trainee in 1982, he worked as a news producer on the six o’clock and nine o’clock news in London before moving to BBC Scotland in 1987, becoming head of television news in 1990. He returned to London in 1995 following a shake-up that saw BBC Scotland merge its television and radio output. “He was a quiet, considered guy who never caused any offence to anyone, but for whatever reasons he was not successful when the new jobs were handed out,” the former colleague said.

The one criticism levelled against Macmillan by former colleagues is that he is not overly gifted in the charisma stakes. “I think some staff thought he’d find it difficult to inspire and energise the kind of people you tend to find in a television newsroom,” the source added.

However, a good working relationship with Chris Kramer, a BBC producer held hostage during the 1980 Iranian Embassy siege, led Macmillan to America in 1996 as a senior producer for CNN, where Kramer was head of international networks. After a spell as newsgathering editor at BBC Southeast in 1999, he returned to Scotland as National Australia Group’s European media manager the following year.

He arrives as SMG finally appears to be putting itself back together as a business, with profits up 11 per cent at the last return. But there is also anticipation of budget cuts, with Hain calling for subsidies from the licence fee to pay for public sector broadcasting that does not deliver commercial returns.

“SMG will probably want Gordon to concentrate on improving audience share for Scotland Today because it is the only time slot in the news and current affairs schedule that is commercially sensitive,” a senior executive said. “Paul [McKinney] did a pretty good job in difficult circumstances but I think SMG are still disappointed with the ratings.”

Macmillan, who increased Reporting Scotland’s audience share in the early to mid-1990s, must be hoping he can do the same again.

It was with loathing that I read in Press Gazette that the Sun has banned a news agency after it lifted a series of stories from regional newspaper websites, passing them off as its own. We all know this goes on. Journalists follow up rivals’ stories but standards must apply. When I was working at the Press and Journal’s Inverness office, my heart, and those of my colleagues, sank when every day we saw follow-up faxes arrive from the news editor in Aberdeen. We bit our tongues and made the necessary calls.

That’s a far cry from the shameless cut and paste jobs that appeared in the Press Gazette most weeks after the Sunday Herald went out when I, albeit briefly, worked there. The funniest – but worst – example of the lot was a small story about Holyrood magazine’s decision to sell on newsstands. It appeared in Press Gazette almost word for word as I had written it. When, weeks later, I bumped into Paul Hutcheon, Holyrood’s then editor, he thanked me for doing the story. When I remarked that Press Gazette had used the same facts and quotes as my story, Paul’s response was telling. “They never phoned me about it at all.” Some journalists deserve every bit of the bad press they get.

The effect of a harder cover price will be tested in December, following the Daily Record’s decision to up its weekday cost from 32p to 35p. The Herald’s decision to jump from 70p to 80p on a Saturday will also be interesting to monitor. The Record’s move is identical to that of sister paper the Daily Mirror, where the decision has been one of many factors that have seen the paper’s circulation slide in the last two years. On last month’s sales a 35p Record could deliver more than £3 million extra a year. At the same time staff are being asked to consider voluntary redundancy. Higher cover price, cost cutting and a strong share price keeps Trinity Mirror’s Sly Bailey in a job. She has no other strategy.

The Herald, meanwhile, is well worth 80p on a Saturday but the cost decision was not lost on the Scotsman, which tagged a BEST SATURDAY VALUE message next to its 60p cover price last week. As someone who buys nearly every paper every day, cover price doesn’t bother me – papers, generally, are too cheap. But with News International (Scotland and Ireland) MD Colin McClatchie claiming that the gap between the Scottish Sun and the Daily Record is at an all time low, the loyalty of the everyday punter will be interesting to gauge in the next four weeks.


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