Gouge Away

Iain Hepburn is a journalist, podcaster and the former digital editor of the Daily Record and editor of STV Local. He is currently a multimedia producer, director of brand journalism with social media agency Contently Managed and a misanthropic commentator on the media.

Follow him on Twitter at @iainmhepburn

So, farewell then Bruce Waddell.

After another traumatic year at Central Quay, Waddell’s eight-year tenure as editor of the Record - and latterly Editor in Chief of the Sunday Mail as well - comes to an end, departing quietly as Trinity Mirror attempts yet another desperate reorganisation of its Scottish operations.

Like all editors, Waddell had his critics and his supporters - both on the editorial floor and outside the building. There are some this morning who will be gleeful at his departure - accusing him of hiding during big decisions, or being too low key or indecisive.

But there will be plenty of others who will mourn the loss of Waddell, however temporary, from the newspaper industry, and who recognise the great success he brought to the Record - including guiding the paper to back-to-back Newspaper of the Awards victories against the odds, while trying to repair the damage done to its reputation by previous regimes.

Cards on the table - I’m very much in the latter camp. Bruce took a chance on bringing me back to Scotland to take on the challenge of making the Record a player online at a time when I was fed up with Trinity Mirror and ready to move to Abu Dhabi, and for that I am and will always remain grateful.

And over the last couple of years, what was obvious - more than anything else - was just how tough a task he faced. Forget Graham Taylor - his was the real impossible job.

Waddell was put in an editor’s nightmare scenario by Trinity Mirror, forced to continue to gouge away at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail while locked in a circulation battle that his ever-dwindling resources meant he could never win.

Already this year, we’ve seen all but the most essential Scottish pages being excised or subsumed by the Mirror or lost to Howden. 90 good journalists, subs and page designers axed - just two years after the previous round of bloodletting wiped out hundreds more.

Iconic, popular features such as Just Joan or Paul English’s TV column were dumped in favour of pages parachuted in from Canary Wharf. A subtle redesign left it looking ever more like the Mirror in typeface and style. Even the Razz, the centrepiece of its showbiz coverage, has been all but subsumed by 3AM. With ContentWatch installed and new web publishing procedures due to be implemented imminently, the staff exist in a state of perpetual concern over another announcement of editorial cuts.

The Record has been left a mere fraction of a paper, a diminished shade when compared to its pomp and glory days. Once upon a time, its editorial staff spread right across the floor of Central Quay’s editorial hall. Now they’re lined up against a wall.

The argument came from Trinity Mirror at the time that the sharing of content, pages and resources with the Mirror would “allow the Daily Record and Sunday Mail to increase their focus on high-quality Scottish news and Scottish sport, with an editorial structure fit for purpose in this fast moving multimedia publishing environment”.

That has apparently now been extended with the creation of the new Media Scotland group, which sees Trinity throw all its increasingly fragile eggs into one massive basketcase, under the leadership of Allan Rennie

This will, apparently, give the company “the firepower to capitalise on the strength and position of our market leading positions across Scotland”.

What absolute bollocks.

What the Scottish titles have suffered under this mismanagement - and let’s be clear, that’s exactly what it has been - is little more than a print industry equivalent of ling chi, the Chinese execution method which gave its name to the phrase ‘death by a thousand cuts’.

Ling chi was a torturous demise, carried out under the orders of the Emperor and reserved for the highest of crimes. It saw the condemned’s body being sliced apart a piece at a time - a brutal execution of not just the body but the soul.

It was believed that ling chi would leave the victim’s soul damaged and incomplete, unable to find piece in the afterlife. And there seems little doubt now that the Record’s spirit has been damaged as much as the physical aspect of the paper.

This next move renders Central Quay as little more than a regional hub, in the same way Trinity runs its local news operations. Despite Mark Hollinshead’s claims to staff today, it’s impossible to see where there will be any effort engaged in turning around the declining circulation, revenue and morale on the banks of the Clyde.

Sharing content in this way doesn’t bolster or improve anything - it just leads to staff and material being spread thinner and thinner, until all that remains is an embarrassed veneer of news pretending to be nationally relevant. So far, there is no news of job cuts from Central Quay... but with resources being shared, it seems logical to assume another spate of redundancies to come in the near future.

After so many years of cuts, recruitment freezes, departures and changes, the papers - Record and Mail both - need both stability and trust to guide it through the next few years. They desperately needs to feel loved by its owners, not treated as if it were some ginger-haired stepchild.

Written on glass on the way into Central Quay is the mission statement setting out the aims of the paper, as written by the founding fathers of the Daily Record back in 1894.

"Ours will be a task not to furnish a mere dull chronicle of events from day to day, but to give a picture, vivid, accurate and varied, of the web of human life as it is."

There can be fewer phrases that adequately sum up what a tabloid title like the Record should be about. But to fulfill that challenge, it must be resourced and respected by those who own it, not decimated in a failed bid to shore up failures elsewhere - for the sake of the whole industry, because if a paper as iconic and recognised as the Record can go, then nobody is safe.

Bruce Waddell finally walking away from the Record, after everything he's had to do there, shows just how grim things have finally become. He was a man who tried, against the odds, to continue getting a paper out that lived up to its former reputation while being forced to let ever more staff go, apparently on the whim of a management who knew little and cared less of the Scottish media landscape.

Another year like this one, and Trinity Mirror may as well replace the Daily Record’s bold red masthead with a white flag - since it is now clear the publishers have given up on any claim to be responsible for Scotland’s Newspaper.

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