William Ritchie and Charles Maclaren had a vision when they first launched The Scotsman back in 1817 to provide a “liberal read” as their direct response to what they viewed at the time as the “unblushing subservience” of newspapers circulating in Edinburgh.
Since then it’s gone through many transformations, moved from broadsheet to compact and switched political allegiance like fresh socks in the morning while owners as disparate as Roy Thomson, Fred and David Barclay and now the Johnstons have made their mark on its 191 year history.
For better or worse, each has written a new chapter and faced new challenges which has seen its circulation drift ever downwards – its own figures for January 2008 putting its average sale at 55,766.
Perhaps significantly, the majority of its readers are aged 55 or over – a whopping 47% – followed by 25% aged between 35 and 54.
Which means just 18% of its sales penetration are aged 34 or under. Or in other words, the younger potential readers are, the less likely they will pick up a copy of the paper.
The assumption may be that because of its award winning website, younger readers have simply switched online for their news.
After all, most newspapers are enjoying a huge lift in their online figures, notably the Daily Mail, Telegraph and Guardian.
But a look at the audited ABCe reports shows that’s not the case.
The daily average is down from 152,957 unique users to 140,005 , while daily page impressions actually increase from 552,078 to 558,393 suggesting that while less people are logging on to the site, those who do are reading more.
But owners Johnston are acutely aware of how important online is to the survival of the title and are continuing to develop the site in line with the hundreds it has elsewhere. A recent redesign drew much criticism from many observers.
But the question that seems to have been missed is why was it carried out, why was it changed quite so comprehensively when it appeared to be a winning formula already? I’d guess because of a possible revolution to come in its content provision.
Already we’ve several major newsgroups in London agree new deals with union chapels for reporters and photographers to provide cross platform content to titles.
And it’s understood the NUJ in Scotland has already began saber rattling for improved deals for members with some of the big players here as management comes to the conclusion that they must adapt or be left behind in the race for online readers and the advertising yields that will surely follow.
A clue to the direction The Scotsman may be heading on this road is in an job advert tucked away on a trade website appealing for a Multimedia Journalist.
Multimedia Journalist? I hear you cry. What is that?
According to The Scotsman’s HR department who placed the ad, it is the following:
“He or she will have the talent to film breaking news events, press conference and one-to-one interviews and be comfortable filing copy on the country’s biggest breaking news and sports stories.
“An ability to form good working relationships with journalists in every part of our newsroom is essential, as is the initiative to devise and implement new ideas.
“Specifically, the successful candidate will also have:
“A working knowledge of Avid Xpress Pro Experience in sourcing and editing third-party video and audio material, ability to film, edit and publish video packages using a HDV Sony video recorder, good newswriting and copy-editing skills.“
Oh yes, I nearly forgot: “A flexible approach to working hours.”
Of course quite how the traditionalists on the paper will react, is another question. They could be all welcoming for the new resource to be at their disposal. But the following description should leave them in no doubt of the company’s view.
“Our Multimedia Journalist will take a place at the heart of The Scotsman newsroom, providing video, audio and written content for the Scotsman.com website.“
Yet how soon after their introduction will all other staff be required to follow suit on an official basis? Surely it is a given that once in place, others will have to adapt?
And while doubt is said to exist over when the Scottish Sun may finally introduce its tartan online pages, the likes of the Herald are also stepping up its online operations along with the Daily Record, and changes for staff are already in the wind.
So there seems little to suggest that more and more won’t be required of staff to adapt to new working practice with many old dogs being required to learn new tricks.
And I know of at least three freelance news/photo agencies actively investigating whether to invest in video to provide ready made content for online desk.
The danger in not doing so is they run the risk of losing out to any who do, and who knows how long newsdesks will call on traditional print based agencies in such an ever changing world.
But doing so requires investment.
And why run the risk of doing so when (a) payments for general print material are already paltry at best and (b) agencies are forced to contemplate their future because some of the bigger news groups haven’t settled invoices months and in some cases more than a year old?
What is does do is allow the likes of national agency The Press Association to have an open field to introduce and exploit video content to a willing market free from significant competition, all the while part funded by those it seeks to serve.
The point of all this – if there really is one – must be that difficult questions and hard decisions remain to be made in the coming 24 – 60 months.
Change is happening, but how news gatherers and providers interpret it and evolve will change the face of journalism forever. Some will succeed, others will fail at first only to recover and fall behind as yet more advances follow.
There is a window to plan and execute where we go from here. And as tempting as it must be for some to resist, to wait and see what happens elsewhere, it would be a massive risk to do so and one probably unacceptable in such fast moving circumstances.
Yet no whatever what is done what ideas are formed, technology advanced and staff recruited. It will ultimately be the reader – or the end user – who decides who sinks and who swims.
Which is at least one constant everyone can agree on.