Scottish newspapers in crisis just when they are needed most

Indigenous journalism is under threat as readers, and jobs, are lost. Tim Luckhurst reports

Writing this week in the Caledonian Mercury, Scotland's online newspaper, editor Stewart Kirkpatrick said: "Scotland's newspapers are dying. Soon they will be gone ... Scotland is about to enter a crucial decision-making period with a maimed and crippled media, incapable of properly enabling the debate we need to have."

His comments were prompted by Trinity Mirror's decision to axe 90 jobs at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail, almost half their editorial staff. In future, non-Scottish stories will come from the Mirror, Sunday Mirror and The People. Some design and subbing will be outsourced to the Press Association.

This is not just a blow to journalists. Neither is it simply a consequence of the newspaper industry's failure to adapt to multimedia convergence – though circulation of both titles has been hard hit. In the early 1990s the Record came within touching distance of 800,000 daily sales. The Sunday Mail hit 900,000. Today their respective circulations are 286,000 and 336,000.

Under the governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major, these raucous, tabloid newspapers expressed the authentic voice of working-class Scotland. Under one great editor, Endell Laird, the Record built Scotland's first children's hospice from reader donations alone. Along with its Sunday sibling, it made real Scotland's claim to have a distinctive, indigenous journalistic culture long before it had a parliament.

The Act of Union gave Scotland its church, law and universities. After 1707, Scottish newspapers went one better. While the country's claim to self-determination was denied, its media offered a proud expression of cultural identity created, not granted, by native journalistic talent.

Trinity Mirror's Scottish agony is not unique. Scotland's broadsheets are in dire straits, too. Last year the Scottish edition of the Sunday Times cut its staff from 16 journalists and a dedicated editor to three reporters and a columnist. This year, Scottish sales of The Scotsman fell below 40,000 for the first time in living memory, giving a daily sales figure in April of 39,739. The Herald sold just 49,754 and the Sunday Herald's circulation tumbled beneath 30,000 – offering another explanation for its decision to ignore the Ryan Giggs injunction.

Dominance of the Scottish newspaper market by indigenous Scottish titles is no longer guaranteed. Scotland's biggest-selling newspaper is the Scottish edition of The Sun. Its newspaper of the year is the Scottish Daily Mail. These are both edited and staffed by journalists based in Scotland. They have earned the right to be called Scottish newspapers – The Sun now supports the SNP – but for some in Scotland that is not enough.

The Scottish Sun and Scottish Daily Mail are, like the Scottish edition of The Times, edited by former Scotsman supremo Magnus Linklater, editions of UK titles. Critics protest that this newspaper version of devolution within the UK mimics the major flaw in its political equivalent: real power remains in London.

This overlooks the fact that all the failing titles named above are also owned by companies whose major assets are outside Scotland. The Scotsman belongs to Johnston Press which, though Scottish in origin, possesses newspapers and websites from Portsmouth in Hampshire to Peterhead in Aberdeenshire. The Herald, launched in 1783 and one of the world's oldest-surviving newspapers, belongs to Gannett, the US corporate giant.

Among Scottish national titles only the folksy Sunday Post, of which historian Tom Nairn observed that Scotland would not be free until "the last minister is strangled with the last copy of the Sunday Post", is truly Scottish. It belongs to DC Thomson, the Dundee-based publisher of the Beano and Dandy. But the Post is struggling, too. In 1999, it sold 700,000 copies weekly. Today's figure is 300,000.

Charles McGhee, former editor of The Herald and former deputy editor of The Daily Record, argues that the latest redundancies are "a disaster for Scotland". He said: "Scotland could be on the brink of declaring independence and breaking up the UK. Yet the indigenous newspapers which should be at the centre of that debate ... are on their knees, with their own future more uncertain than ever."

Kirkpatrick, a web-entrepreneur and former Scotsman journalist, sees internet newspapers such as his own Caledonian Mercury as the beginning of the solution. But revenue flows to such projects suggest that the internet is no more capable of financing expensive newsgathering in Scotland than elsewhere.

The excellence of Scottish journalism helped make the case for devolution. Its decline has inaugurated an era in which citizens contemplating national independence face a historic dearth of autonomous journalism.

Tim Luckhurst is professor of journalism at the University of Kent and a former editor of The Scotsman

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and Clara have their first real heart to heart since he regenerated in 'Deep Breath'
TV
Arts and Entertainment
James Hewitt has firmly denied being Harry’s father
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Oliver
filmTV chef Jamie Oliver turned down role in The Hobbit
News
The official police photograph of Dustin Diamond taken after he was arrested in Wisconsin
peopleDownfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Life and Style
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Jeremy Clarkson, left, and Richard Hammond upset the locals in South America
tvReview: Top Gear team flee Patagonia as Christmas special reaches its climax in the style of Butch and Sundance
News
people
Sport
Ashley Barnes of Burnley scores their second goal
footballMan City vs Burnley match report
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca alongside Harrison Ford's Han Solo in 'Star Wars'
film
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Man of action: Christian Bale stars in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
Life and Style
Apple showed no sign of losing its talent for product launches with the new, slightly larger iPhone 6 making headlines
techSecurity breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Arts and Entertainment
Catherine (Sarah Lancashire) in Happy Valley ((C) Red Productions/Ben Blackall)
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Clueless? Locked-door mysteries are the ultimate manifestation of the cerebral detective story
booksAs a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Brand Marketing Manager - Essex - £45,000 + £5000 car allowance

£40000 - £45000 per annum + car allowance: Ashdown Group: Senior Brand Manager...

Guru Careers: .NET Developer /.NET Software Developer

£26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: We are seeking a .NET Developer /.NET Software ...

Guru Careers: Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing Exec (SEO / PPC)

£18 - 24k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Marketing Analyst / Online Marketing...

Guru Careers: Technical Operations Manager

£Neg. (DOE) + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Technical Ope...

Day In a Page

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

A timely reminder of the bloody anniversary we all forgot

Who remembers that this week we enter the 150th anniversary year of the end of the American Civil War, asks Robert Fisk
Homeless Veterans appeal: Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served

Homeless Veterans appeal

Former soldiers pay their respects to a friend who also served
Downfall of Dustin 'Screech' Diamond, the 'Saved By The Bell' star charged with bar stabbing

Scarred by the bell

The downfall of the TV star charged with bar stabbing
Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Why 2014 was a year of technological let-downs

Security breaches and overhyped start-ups dominated a year in which very little changed (save the size of your phone)
Cuba's golf revolution: But will the revolutionary nation take 'bourgeois' game to its heart?

Will revolutionary Cuba take 'bourgeois' golf to its heart?

Fidel Castro ridiculed the game – but now investment in leisure resort projects is welcome
The Locked Room Mysteries: As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor Otto Penzler explains the rules of engagement

The Locked Room Mysteries

As a new collection of the genre’s best is published, its editor explains the rules of engagement
Amy Adams on playing painter Margaret Keane in Tim Burton's Big Eyes

How I made myself Keane

Amy Adams hadn’t wanted to take the role of artist Margaret Keane, because she’d had enough of playing victims. But then she had a daughter, and saw the painter in a new light
Ed Richards: Parting view of Ofcom chief. . . we hate jokes on the disabled

Parting view of Ofcom chief... we hate jokes on the disabled

Bad language once got TV viewers irate, inciting calls to broadcasting switchboards. But now there is a worse offender, says retiring head of the media watchdog, Ed Richards
A look back at fashion in 2014: Wear in review

Wear in review

A look back at fashion in 2014
Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015. Might just one of them happen?

Ian Herbert: My 10 hopes for sport in 2015

Might just one of them happen?
War with Isis: The West needs more than a White Knight

The West needs more than a White Knight

Despite billions spent on weapons, the US has not been able to counter Isis's gruesome tactics, says Patrick Cockburn
Return to Helmand: Private Davey Graham recalls the day he was shot by the Taliban

'The day I was shot by the Taliban'

Private Davey Graham was shot five times during an ambush in 2007 - it was the first, controversial photograph to show the dangers our soldiers faced in Helmand province
Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Revealed: the best and worst airlines for delays

Many flyers are failing to claim compensation to which they are entitled, a new survey has found
The stories that defined 2014: From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions

The stories that defined 2014

From the Scottish independence referendum to the Ice Bucket Challenge, our writers voice their opinions
Stoke-on-Trent becomes first British city to be classified as 'disaster resilient' by the United Nations

Disaster looming? Now you know where to head...

Which British city has become the first to be awarded special 'resilience' status by the UN?