Which way now for our historic newspapers?
WHEN THE OWNER of The Herald and Sunday Herald issued redundancy notices to its 230 journalists late last year, and then invited them to re-apply for a reduced number of their own jobs, there was an outcry from both the unions and politicians.
The brutal method of achieving these cuts was roundly criticised from all sides with one noticeable exception, The Scotsman. The normally fierce rival to The Herald was strangely quiet. There was only one conclusion to be drawn - The Scotsman must be planning similar cuts of its own.
Indeed that turned out to be the case; since the cuts at The Herald in January, the editors of The Scotsman and Scotland on Sunday have both resigned and Johnston Press, the owners, announced the merger of the editorial teams of the daily and Sunday titles with a loss of 25 journalist jobs. In addition, the Saturday and Sunday papers have eliminated one magazine section each in response to the huge reduction in advertising income.
It is hard to imagine that cutting back on local editorial content, or on sections, will help The Scotsman or The Herald compete with the huge multi-section weekend editions of the UK nationals. These relentless cuts are leading to one inescapable end point - failure and closure of one or both of these historic titles.
Surely it is time for some more creative thinking? After all, there are huge numbers of Scots around the world - many more than in Scotland. The Guardian is re-inventing itself as a leading global liberal publisher; it has invested modestly in online-only comment sites and has added a range of podcasts to create new content from its existing staff. This model could be adopted in Scotland.
Unbelievably, after a strong start for scotsman.com, The Scotsman has even managed to botch this. Last year they lost over a third of their regular website visitors after a poor redesign, and they are still not planning any significant new online developments such as a Scottish equivalent of The Guardian's 'comment is free' site with a range of commentators.
Surely scotsman.com should be the leading source of Scottish news and comment around the world, attracting huge numbers of ex-pat Scots? The arrival of micro-payment and subscription models on the iPhone and other devices like Amazon's Kindle offer a real prospect of attracting new subscribers and forcing them to pay a little each for what they read. Now is the time to develop online products that will work well in such a world.
As well as appealing to ex-pats, sites such as those of The Herald and The Scotsman ought to be the best for local information: news and reviews of theatre, cinemas, and music gigs; restaurant guides; incisive political coverage; and up-to-date traffic news. Sports reporters should be blogging, in real time, from football matches, and political correspondent should be twittering from the garden lobby of the parliament.
Why do newspapers leave it to Which? magazine to create online directories of local tradesmen - that should be their job. In fact everything in their own area should be their job. Why are high quality specialist sports fan sites not run by the newspapers - Rangers and Celtic by The Herald and Hearts and Hibs by The Scotsman?
The inevitable downward slide of these newspapers towards oblivion need not be inevitable - but it does need a bit of imagination.