The print title no-one saw coming - how the National will tap into a readership hungry for a different kind of news
There are a lot of things that nobody saw coming after the No vote in the Scottish independence referendum this September. The surge in SNP membership to more than 80,000 from around 25,000 was one of them, and the launch of a pro-independence newspaper in what is a broadly failing industry is certainly another.
But that’s the case in Scotland. On Monday, The National newspaper will hit the stands with a print run of 50,000 and a 50p price tag, according to the Guardian.
The pro-independence title from the Herald & Times Group, which is owned by Newsquest, comes after storming successes this year for the Sunday Herald, the sister title of the daily Herald newspaper, which saw a jump in circulation thanks to the referendum campaign. It will use the tagline “The newspaper that supports an independent Scotland”.
After becoming the only newspaper to back a Yes vote, the Sunday Herald – which had in previous years struggled with poor circulation – performed an unprecedented turnaround and saw its year-on-year circulation in the week of the referendum shoot up by 111 per cent.
The paper became the mainstream media voice for the independence movement and when the ballots returned a 45 per cent vote in favour of independence, with no challenger on its side of the fence it was clear that editor Richard Walker’s risk had paid off.
Its sister title the Herald took a different direction. Backing a No vote, the Herald and Sunday Herald took on notably different identities despite sharing the same online space behind HeraldScotland’s metered paywall.
The National – described by Guardian sources as tabloid, but ‘i-like’ – will have its fate decided once its commercial viability is established. Newsquest will soon find out if there is enough opportunity around to sustain another paper in the Herald & Times Group stable, which also owns the Glasgow Evening Times newspaper.
Speaking to The Drum earlier this year, Herald & Times Group managing director Tim Blott admitted that the Herald papers taking a stance on independence had been a “commercial risk”, but said that any negative response had been “outweighed by the positive reactions”.
What lies in store for HeraldScotland is unclear. The website has enjoyed a significant increase in paid subscriptions this year – the number has doubled since the beginning of the year to more than 13,500 - although Blott said after the referendum that the online relationship between the Herald and the Sunday Herald may be looked at with a view to strengthening the Sunday Herald brand online.
The creation of a new website would raise questions; would it be behind a paywall? Would it pull subscriptions away from HeraldScotland and pose a problem for the commercial team? Until the future of The National is decided, the digital strategy may not change in a hurry.
Not only is the Herald & Times Group maximising the benefit of what has been a rewarding editorial stance, it’s capitalising on the emergence of a new media in Scotland which the public have been so hungry for they’ve been willing to fund themselves.
Wings Over Scotland, Bella Caledonia and Newsnet Scotland raised sums in the region of six figures through crowdfunding to sustain their output throughout the referendum campaign, and they’ve been a thorn in the side of the traditional titles.
The mainstream media in Scotland came in for fierce criticism during the referendum campaign, and the public unease and distrust in some of Scotland’s most recognised titles became impossible to ignore. Hundreds of people protested outside BBC Scotland’s Glasgow headquarters more than once this year, while prolific media executives such as Stuart Cosgrove described the broadcaster’s output during the campaign as “wrong and not acceptable”.
The media industry in the wider United Kingdom may look on in confusion at the launch of a print title in Scotland, but a closer look at the wider effects of the political revolution in the country shows that Newsquest is swiftly tapping into a market of readers who are committed and hungry for a different type of news.
The company has grabbed an opportunity to capitalise on the rising profile of the Sunday Herald’s daring editorial, and when 45 per cent of a population have no daily newspaper reflecting their stance on one of the biggest political decisions they are ever likely to make, it’s probably a no brainer.
Angela Haggerty is a former media and broadcast reporter for The Drum who now edits CommonSpace, a digital news service in Scotland launching later this year.
In the run-up to the independence referendum in September she interviewed editors of the Sunday Herald to discuss the paper's support of Scottish independence.
Among the interviewees was selected editor of the National Richard Walker, who explained how the newspaper came to support independence. To see full interviews view the video below.