Tomorrow’s chip wrappers …

The news of 90 journalists losing their jobs at the Daily Record and Sunday Mail may register barely a ripple outside Caledonia.

But as I digested yesterday’s shock announcement and feared for some of my closest friends’ livelihoods, it seemed to me to sound the death knell for distinctive Scottish media.

Production (except sport) will be moved to PA in Yorkshire. All non-news will come from the Mirror in London. The rump of writing staff left will only work on Scottish stories.

For most of my life, the Daily Record and Sunday Mail have been THE Scottish tabloids – the biggest sellers, the best-looking (vibrantly full colour when every other tabloid was still B&W), campaigning on issues that mattered to its readers, defiantly Labour when its rivals were mostly right-leaning. Its columnists were must-reads.

Its sports coverage unrivalled – while football-centric, the management knew the value of a local touch when it came to covering the big events, such as the Olympics or the Commonwealth Games, and didn’t stint on sending its own reporters and snappers all over the world to cover them and offer a distinctively Scottish hue to the news from them.

Most importantly, the Record and Mail knew their readership and their stories reflected that readership – working class, predominantly male, Labour voting, fiercely proud of the Scots and Scotland without being insular.

Enough has been written about the travails of the print media since the dawn of t’internet and the digital age to fill a million books. There are probably already a million books out there on this very subject.

And today’s online community has much more cogent analysis here, here and here.

But, having spent more than a decade of my life working on the Record, I want to offer my own very personal view of the Record’s demise. It’s probably far too simplistic but it seems clear to me: the Record forgot what it was.

It lost touch with its readership in quite spectacular fashion and that is a crime.

The chase to secure women readers in the 25-35 bracket has seen successive editors try to push it upmarket to take on the Daily Mail, a fruitless and costly exercise. A good story is a good story is a good story – aiming content at particular demographics is utter folly, as their thankfully shortlived football ‘fanzine’ proved a couple of years back.

The endless redesigns and introduction of quirky fonts that designers love but subs hate confused more than enlightened readers. A genuine case of style over substance indeed.

Then there’s The Sun – now Scotland’s biggest-selling daily newspaper. Staffed by fewer than half the people at the Record and Mail. But backed by the vast resources of Wapping. Like its pointless aping of the Daily Mail, the Record also went down the showbiz route perfected by The Sun – and flunked that, too, by filling its pages with endless inanity about soaps, z-list celebs and telly talent show contestants.

Now fluff provided by PRs takes precedence to actual news and journos have to ‘hang a kilt’ on any old shite to get it in the paper.

There’s a harsh historical lesson out there for the Record and Mail.

Almost 40 years ago, the biggest-selling newspaper in Scotland was the Daily Express. But its London-based management decided to shut the Glasgow office and print plant to save money by producing the paper from Manchester, a decision that backfired on them spectacularly when Scotland united in protest and its redundant staff launched their own shortlived newspaper. The Express has never recovered in Scotland.

Scotland now has its second successive SNP government. But today it doesn’t have a Scottish newspaper worth the name.

Shame on Trinity Mirror and shame on the spineless management who have sleepwalked the Record into oblivion.

4 thoughts on “Tomorrow’s chip wrappers …

  1. Well said Fran. I do think that when I arrived in 1999, the new Saturday Mag as it was then was a brilliant exercise. Yes, it was trying to compete with the DMail, but it was full of good reads, proper celebrity interviews, and a right mix of local and national content. I don’t know where things went wrong. I think you are right about the messing about with design, changing the magazines constantly, and introducing the likes of The Razz etc, did not help.
    Since I left in 2004 I’ve rarely read it, but when I have I’ve been stunned at some of the c**p in it. Mainly in features, like you say, trying to target a specific bracket who are much more likely to by one of the hundreds of magazines, or go online.
    Full pages and spreads dedicated to ‘stories’ what were purely advertorial for whatever brand the PR was marketing. I tried to pitch ideas at times – proper ideas – features with a hook, a reason for being a feature other than just plugging something, and they were constantly knocked back. And yet they printed reams of stuff that was nothing more than a plug for a new shop, a new diet guru, or whatever other type of rubbish they thought the reader wanted.
    I remember when I first did stuff for Record Woman, it was proper features -interesting reads – okay, some were fluffy, but they still had the right blend of human interest, topical subjects, and Scottish colour.
    Latterly I did the fashion and beauty, and it has its place when done well, and when there’s the right blend. But that only comes when a paper knows what it is, and I don’t think the Record has known what it is for years.

  2. The real epitaph is your pin-point accurate diagnosis: “The Record forgot what it was.
    It lost touch with its readership in quite spectacular fashion and that is a crime.”
    After I left (I hoped to make way for a new wave of bright young journalists),
    I never wanted to say that, in case people thought it was just another bitter old-fart hack yearning for ‘the good old days’. The real worry is for the futures of the promising youngsters who are not long in their jobs – or the hundreds now training on media courses in Scotland – and, of course, the Record-Mail staffers who have family and financial commitments on the basis that they thought they would be safe if they did a good job.
    Tom Brown

    1. Tom, it’s actually criminal what they’ve done – and the people who have presided over this disaster will still be sitting there collecting their fat salaries, fiddling their expenses while Central Quay burns

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