Media: An Englishman declares daily war in Scotland: Three words on its masthead signal an ambitious future for the Scotsman, writes John Arlidge

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The Independent Online
LESS THAN three months after becoming the first Englishman to edit the Scotsman for more than half a century, Andrew Jaspan has won a battle with tradition. Today, for the first time in the paper's 170- year history, the words 'Scotland's National Newspaper' appear on the masthead. 'They said I could not do it, that it was not the right place for it, but I insisted and it was done,' he says.

All newspapers north of the border use front-page slogans to reassure readers of their Scots credentials, but the Scotsman alone now claims to be the nation's official daily read. Media analysts say Mr Jaspan's 'three little words' amount to a public declaration of war on his competitors.

The brash, energetic 42-year- old, who took over the ailing Scotland on Sunday five years ago and transformed it into the country's leading quality weekly with sales of almost 100,000, will, they say, take the daily fight west to challenge the Glasgow Herald, and north to take on the Dundee Courier and the Aberdeen Press and Journal (P&J).

Looked at from the Scotsman's imposing offices on Edinburgh's North Bridge, a strategy of expansion seems attractive. Scotland's 'quality' dailies - the Edinburgh-based Scotsman, the Glasgow Herald, and the Courier and P&J - are strongly city-based 'regional' papers. For years their editors have been content to shore up already-strong local circulation, without striving to break out of their urban heartlands. Competition has been stifled, leaving the titles weak and creating fresh opportunities for outward looking editors to pick up new readers.

The Scotsman's main rival, the Glasgow Herald, in particular, looks shaky. Eight years ago the paper sold almost 130,000 copies a day, around half of them in the Strathclyde region. Now, with sales down to around 113,000, Caledonian Publishing, which owns the title, has been forced to lay off staff and postpone its planned stockmarket flotation from next spring to 1996 at the earliest. An internal memorandum, leaked earlier this year, warned that the company was 'hugely uncompetitive'.

Analysts who believe that the time is ripe for the Scotsman to head north and west point to the rapid rise of the English-owned Sun in Glasgow - circulation up 20 per cent in the past year - as evidence that in Scotland's biggest newspaper market, readers' traditional loyalty to local city-based titles may be weakening.

Val McGavin, director of the Media Shop advertising consultancy in Glasgow, says: 'The Sun has been extremely successful in capturing readers from existing Scotland-based tabloids and in winning new converts. If Glaswegians are abandoning a 'local' title and buying another product because they think it is better, there is a chance that a non-mass market title from Edinburgh could achieve the same success, challenging years of domination by the Herald.'

Others caution that while the tabloid market is freeing up, local chauvinism still runs deep among 'quality' readers. Christine Tulloch, an Edinburgh-based analyst, says: 'Scotland does not have one single quality daily newspaper market. Instead, the market is divided into a collection of geographically-distinctive titles . . . and for many readers, never the twain shall meet. If Mr Jaspan decides to take on those papers and the attitudes of their readers, he faces a tough task in what is essentially a parochial market.'

The normally ebullient Mr Jaspan is nervous about outlining his vision for the future of the Scotsman, which sells around 85,000 copies a day, half of them in the Edinburgh area.

He has made few changes to the paper so far and has turned down requests for interviews. But he is thought to be planning a new features-based second section and has launched a new recruitment drive.

If he does decide to go for broke, Miss McGavin says, he will have to improve the overall quality of the Scotsman and demonstrate that improvement publicly. 'That means spending money on promotion, which Thomson Regional Newspapers (the Scotsman's owner) have been reluctant to do in the past,' she says. Even with the right financial backing, however, setting forth from the Scottish capital is a high-risk strategy. 'Mr Jaspan and TRN could find themselves spending a lot of money outside Edinburgh and winning few extra readers,' she adds.

On one thing, all observers agree. If anyone can make the Scotsman the first true national quality daily north of the border, Mr Jaspan is the man. Christine Tulloch says: 'As an English new arrival north of the border, Andrew does not have the inhibiting east-coast cultural baggage which has affected the Scotsman in the past.

'He is extremely enthusiastic and dynamic - a terrific editorial- ideas man who is not afraid to plunge himself into the commercial side of newspapers. He achieved great success at Scotland on Sunday. Now he could do the same from Monday to Saturday.'

(Photograph omitted)

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