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Mike's Media Monitor

By The Drum | Administrator

October 6, 2005 | 5 min read

The talk is of the Sunday Herald going compact and soon. But the question is, simply, why? Let me, at the outset, state that the paper is one of my favourites. It is delivered through the letterbox when others are bought from the corner shop, as and when. I like its sport. Given the business I am in, its media section is a must-read.

But I am not at all sure that going compact would be that smart a move. Of all the days you don’t mind grappling with a broadsheet, it has to be Sunday. For many, a broadsheet paper, along with the coffee and croissants, is the quintessence of a lazy Sunday morning (for me, I’d chuck in The Archers also – but I am kind of strange that way).

Compacts suit commuters, broadsheets are okay in bed. The time we take reading a daily newspaper is a fraction of that spent poring over a Sunday.

Were it to happen, it would follow hard on the heels of The Guardian switching format to Berliner - and mostly to universal acclaim. A poll on gave it an 80.9 per cent approval rating.

But The Guardian is a daily. And while The Observer is poised to change its look, that’s no reason for the Sunday Herald to follow suit. Or even try to be the first.

And as every newspaper managing director will know by now, a reduction in size is likely to mean advertisers demanding a similar drop in the rate card. It might be still a full page ad they wish to buy, but it would be a smaller full page.

Compact, as The Independent and The Scotsman have proven, doesn’t necessarily mean writers and page designers being hamstrung. The Scotsman’s use of its page 2 and 3 for its lead story is arguably more space than a broadsheet front page splash. And the format does create the illusion of even a quite short news story being of some significance.

Nevertheless, there are bound to be occasions when that huge Sunday read, where the article positively bristles with bylines, would be almost impossible to accommodate in the smaller style.

And, of course, the Sunday Herald has always branded itself as being design-led, since its genesis under editor, Andrew Jaspan. It’s won lots of design awards. Look at the white space that gives, for instance, Ian Bell’s column room to breathe.

Quite how the paper would condense its current output into a compact raises some questions about the amount of content it could run in the new format. It might mean quite a bulky product indeed. And if that were to justify a cut in content, might the result be a narrowing of the Sunday Herald focus? A bit more news – specifically local news – and a bit more sport, but cuts elsewhere? The number crunchers may be doing their sums: just how many readers would the paper lose were it to shed some of its sections?

And in losing some readers, might some new ones be recruited, attracted by what is, in effect, a relaunch of the title?

So what of the new-look Guardian? Well, its re-shaping was not used as an opportunity to deliver any more, by way of Scottish content.

Obviously the number crunchers there have been doing their sums too. There is an argument that were The Guardian to up its Scottish content, it could seriously threaten The Scotsman and The Herald. But even were it to rob those two titles of some readers, the view, clearly, is that not enough would be drawn to the new product.

The Guardian without a huge Scottish dimension sells about 15,000 copies in Scotland; just over five per cent of its UK total. Meanwhile, using the most recent figures at the time of writing, the tartan version of the Daily Mail contributes 5.87 per cent towards a total UK sell of 2,232,149. In other words, what percentage increase would The Guardian enjoy were it to have a kilt put alongside its new masthead? Probably not much.

For long enough, ‘national film agency’, has often sufficed when trying to describe the work of Scottish Screen. But a new description may now be required as chief executive, Ken Hay, puts into place the results of an exhaustive review of the organisation. There seems to be a re-emphasis on the word, ‘Screen’, to allow for the embracing of TV and new media. Unkind critics who say that all it requires is a staff of one to sign the last crucial cheque deny Scottish Screen’s role as being heavily into training, which appears to remain sacrosanct in Hay’s vision.

It is also a partner in various short film and documentary initiatives, including the This Scotland documentary strand currently being broadcast on Scottish TV and Grampian TV.

And then there are its recent forays into primary school education. On the evidence of children in Angus recently learning about filmmaking, it could find itself at the heart of a full-blown education debate. Filmmaking arms children with improved communication, teamwork and other skills – and apparently does wonders for kids’ fundamental enthusiasm for school.

The expectation is that Hay will reposition Scottish Screen – in the context of perhaps now distant plans to have it merged into a new Cultural Commission – as taking on more of an overview/strategic role than a hands-on, providing one.

The challenge is finding a definition of Scottish Screen that does not suffer from being so diffuse that people find sanctuary in their own prejudices – for instance, that it is only into film production, and Glasgow film production at that.

Mike Wilson is a director of the media website,


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