As it fires its editor and sees circulation slump why was The Scotsman named Scotland's Newspaper of the Year? (Opinion)
The timing could not have been more ironic and there was a tidal wave of applause as the judges at the Scottish Press Awards named the Scotsman as Newspaper of the Year last week.
Newspaper of the Year?
The applause was nothing to do with the paper's circulation success. Rather, it was a deeply-felt sympathy vote for the man collecting the prize - Scotsman editor-in-chief John McLellan who had just been put on leave in the latest big Johnston Press shake-up.
The judges, chaired by Dame Eilish Angiolini, former Lord Advocate, were not, of course, feeling sorry for John. Their decisions, made presumably well before the event, were taken because they really felt that the Scotsman was the best of the bunch.
What were they judging? Sales? Relevance? Success in the target market? Quality of the Scottish newspaper offering as the country faces up to an independence referendum?
The Scotsman's last circulation figure in a city of 500,000 and a country of five million was 39,000 and slipping. Clearly the great Edinburgh public do not share the view of the judges. The Herald in Glasgow was not much better at 45,660.
For newspapers to be judged best, rather more people have to read them.
Both were outshone by far by the Dundee Courier (59,000) and the P&J (66,000). The Scottish Daily Mail remained comfortably over 100,000.
The Daily Record (Circ 276,000) was not at the races for the top prize. Nor was the Scottish Sun (324,000) who decided to hold their own media awards. (Maybe they guessed they might not win before Dame Eilish's panel).
The Scotsman has had 10 editors in 10 years. Somewhere in there is a clue to what's wrong with the paper.
Scotland really DOES need a powerful voice at the top end of the market: a Telegraph whose current 600,000 UK sale would translate to 60,000 in Scotland. Right now, neither The Scotsman nor the American-owned Herald is it.
Maybe a combined Herald and Scotsman would garner the extra heft. But time is running out. Who will bite the bullet?