Mike's Media Monitor
I am reminded of that old adage that, to assume, makes an ass of you and me. I am reminded, partly, following the launch of a campaign by Scotland’s daily newspaper publishers to get more of us reading newspapers more often – not one brand over another, but any brand.
There is an obvious reason for the campaign – which was being talked up as the first time in the 90-year history of the Scottish Daily Newspaper Society when all the members are as one. Sales of daily newspapers are generally on the decline. What the campaign is seeking to do is target those who are vulnerable to being lured towards other media, such as the internet, not least those whose loyalty to a daily newspaper may extend to a particular day of the week or for a specific supplement, such as property or recruitment.
The assumption that we might be all guilty of making is that we should be depressed about declining sales. At one level, so we should. Declining sales impacts on revenue, including ad revenue, which then impacts on quality, diversity and jobs.
One only needs to ponder the recent announcement from Daily Record publisher, Trinity Mirror, that journalist jobs are going to have to go, and that the cuts will have to become compulsory if not enough volunteers come forward. It makes for mawkish reading whenever the monthly circulation figures are released. And even though the ABCs can be read in a variety of ways – thus offering scope for adding a positive spin to disappointing numbers – the general trend is unmistakable. But as Tim Blott, the managing director of Newsquest, remarked during conversation at the launch, it is maybe too easy for us to delight in the misfortune of othersâ€š circulation figures while also fearing for the health of the daily newspaper industry in general. And he may have a point. If nothing else, the SDNS campaign gets newspaper folk setting aside their competitiveness, sometimes nasty, in pursuit of a higher cause. And perhaps, instead of pessimism, the declining figures should be viewed with a degree of optimism; not requiring the use of smoke and mirrors, but informed by the realisation that newspapers are pretty resilient beasts. They have withstood supposed threats in the past and they are doing a pretty decent job today against the more recent forces of the internet and 24-hour news on television.
In other words, were newspapers not essentially such wonderful things, they would have been blown out of the water long ago. Instead, they still find themselves at the heart of people’s lives.
Newspaper circulation figures are published once a month; radio listening figures once every three months. And the latest set of RAJAR figures came out last week. When it comes to spin, radio stations are even more adept than newspapers in finding positives when, at first glance, the numbers are disappointing. Of course, like the ABCs, it is the variety of options offered by the RAJARs that provides the opportunity to find solace. Whether it is percentage reach in the territory being broadcast to, or comparing one figure with its counterpart twelve months previously, or the number of hours being listened to – in total, or on average per person – there’s bound to be something to cheer.
But no spin was needed for Real Radio, the commercial radio station that has been on the go in Scotland for just four years. It has taken over from BBC Radio Scotland as the most listened-to station in the country. Nevertheless, BBC Radio Scotland was able to celebrate in its own way. There have been a lot of changes over these last few months and, compared to this time last year, listening is up. A little down on three months ago, but up on twelve months ago.
And more changes are believed to be on their way, at least at its flagship, Good Morning Scotland, which, it is understood, is to be cut by ten minutes to provide the Gary Robertson radio phone-in that follows additional airtime. If the cut goes ahead, GMS will finish at ten to nine, instead of nine oâ€šclock, and to make it possible at least one regular slot will need to be sacrificed.
The newspaper review at ten to eight involves a hack flicking through the day’s papers, picking out three or four stories, the last usually a funny. The tone is conversational and the expectation is that, as well as reporting what it is being reported, there’s an element of analysis, of both the story and the treatment of the story. With a number of names on the roster, each week is different to the previous one. Some are good, others less so. That’s inevitable.
But the gamble for GMS is that the newspaper review is something of an institution. Which is no reason to keep it, but means it will have a fan base.
Mike Wilson is a director of the media website, www.allmediascotland.com