Sunday, 7 December 2008


No other way to put it - bloody awful news regarding The Herald, Sunday Herald and Evening Times this week. In brief: new editor-in-chief of all three titles, Donald Martin, has sacked the entire workforce, around 250 hacks, and told them to reapply for their jobs under new terms and conditions. Oh, and there will be 40 fewer jobs to apply for.

The owner of the titles since 2003 is Newsquest, a UK subsidiary of an American company called, unbelievably, Gannett. Newsquest owns 17 dailies, one Sunday (the Sunday Herald) and an absolute shedload of free weeklies; they also own the s1 series of websites. And the Exchange & Mart.

A bit of background: Scotland has what I'm told is a German model of newspaper production and reading - the main daily titles are strongly associated with the cities in which they're based. Glasgow has the Herald, Edinburgh the Scotsman, Dundee the Courier and Aberdeen the Press and Journal. Despite the claims of both the Herald and the Scotsman there is no national newspaper.

Since Newsquest took over there has, allegedly, been a marked decline in quality on all three Glasgow-based papers. (I say allegedly because I don't read the Herald, since it's a Glasgow paper.) Resources have been cut as well. In fact things got so bad in 2007 that the journalists went on strike; you can read a good account of it, as well as background, in a piece from the Independent.

It doesn't seem things got any better. Job cuts and new IT systems that didn't work have, unsurprisingly, led to over-stressed and under-motivated staff, according to a report by the NUJ. The Guardian covers the story here (28 Sep 2008).

Regarding the new editor-in-chief, it doesn't seem that he's done much of a job on the Evening Times. Contributors to this discussion board reckon he's driven readers away with front-page trivia and unquestioning support for Glasgow City Council, and then tried to win them back with bizarre giveaways. The discussion runs to two pages but it's mostly concise and well-written, and bang up-to-date.

It's deeply saddening and ironic, though not surprising, that the DTI report approving Gannett/Newsquest's acquisition of the papers made these key points:

1. The transfer is unlikely to adversely affect competition between newspapers in Scotland.

2. We do not expect the transfer to adversely to affect editorial freedom, the current editorial stance, content or quality of the SMG titles, accurate presentation of news or freedom of expression.

3. Nor do we expect the transfer to result in undue financial pressure on the titles acquired such as to reduce editorial quality.

Alex Salmond has said that he can imagine how The Herald would have covered the story if this had happened at another company in Scotland: in fact, they have. Google "herald" and "sackings" and you find this 2002 story about the Clyde & Forth Press Group sacking 11 editors and inviting them to apply for four new posts; also this one about SEPA sacking 600 staff who refused to sign a new contract.

The thing is, it simply does not make sense to treat staff in this way. The return you get from listening to and consulting staff and bringing them on board massively outweighs the expense, because a motivated workforce is more productive. I don't, I just don't understand why employers don't see this, unless it's the old story from Suetonius and The Twelve Caesars: people who are put in a position of power will abuse it. In other words, it's not because they have to - it's because they can.



Yewtree said...

Blimey, that is scary.

Yes Germany has regional newspapers, such as the Süddeutsche Zeitung and the Frankfurter Allgemeine. Perhaps unsurprising in such a large country. Though slightly more surprising in Scotland. English newspapers used to be on this model; the Guardian was originally the Manchester Guardian, for instance.

The Silver Eel said...

And a fragmented one, given Germany wasn't united till comparatively late. Every country has strong local identities and loyalties, of course, but for them to remain so distinct, and so well counter-balanced politically in a country as small as Scotland does seem odd. The Yorkshire Evening Post is tremendously important to people in Yorkshire, but you never see it being mentioned in the round-up of tomorrow's headlines on Newsnight.