By Hamish Mackay

Two of Scotland’s home-grown daily morning newspapers – The Press and Journal (P&J) and The Courier – are from their bases in Aberdeen and Dundee superbly flying the flag for Scotland’s newspaper industry by resolutely continuing to occupy first and third places in the UK regional newspapers circulation league table.

In new figures issued by the Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC), The P&J, with an average daily sale of 28,482 copies during January to June this year, is 1,386 copies ahead of Belfast-based The Irish News with a 27,096 circulation. The Courier is third with 22,168 copies.

However, both newspapers, owned by Dundee-headquartered DC Thomson Media (DCT) newspaper group, are, like every other newspaper in the ABC table, continuing to lose sales on a year-on-year basis. The P&J, compared to the same six-month period in 2021, is down 9.9%, and The Courier has dropped by 12.2%. The Irish News, in comparison, has only shed 3.3% of its circulation.

DCT’s Aberdeen-based Evening Express shows a 15.1% decrease to 11,464 copies while Dundee’s Evening Telegraph is down 14.7% to 6,959. The only two other Scottish titles featuring in the ABC list are The Scotsman – down 8.8% for a 9,141 circulation figure, and the Paisley Daily Express – down 17.8% to 2,729 copies. Scottish dailies including The HeraldThe NationalGlasgow Times and Greenock Telegraph choose not to be included in the ABC table.

Among the big name English titles to see significant circulation drops are the Liverpool Echo – down 16.2%; Wolverhampton’s Express & Star – down 17.9%; and the Hull Daily Mail – down 20.1%.

A total of 54 daily titles reported for the January to June 2022 period, with some newspapers, including National World’s Edinburgh Evening News, now only reporting annually each February.

Here are the circulation figures for the top 15 UK regional newspapers listed by ABC, with the percentage drop in sales in brackets:

1. The P&J: 28,482 copies (-9.9%);
2. The Irish News: 27,096 (-3.3%);
3. The Courier, Dundee: 22,168 (-12.2.%);
4. Manchester Evening News: 20,286 (-8.2%);
5. Liverpool Echo: 18,496 (-16.2%);
6. Eastern Daily Press: 16,413 (-11%);
7. Express & Star, Wolverhampton: 16,175 (-17.9%);
8. Yorkshire Post: 12,408 (-14.1%);
9. Shropshire Star: 11,998 (-12.2%);
10. Stoke Sentinel: 11,855 (-17.4%);
11. Evening Express, Aberdeen: 11,464 (-15.1%);
12. Northern Echo, Leeds: 11,321 (NA);
13. Newcastle Chronicle: 10,719 (-17%);
14. Hull Daily Mail: 10,232 (-20.1%);
15. The Echo, South Essex: 9,563 (NA).

2. The Herald’s new editor sends a message to her readers
A rather interesting message for The Herald’s readership from its new editor, Catherine Salmond, marking her first week at the helm of the Glasgow-based broadsheet. Her message co-incided with The Herald’s excellent performance in winning no less than eight categories in this year’s Scottish Press Awards – easily the best overall performance by a single newspaper and amply illustrating the quality in depth of The Herald’s journalistic team.

Catherine told her readers: ‘It is a privilege to have taken charge for what I am confident will be a hugely exciting chapter in this newspaper’s rich and long-standing history. As a priority, I am determined to maintain the trust you expect from The Herald, while bringing an energy and enthusiasm which will be mirrored in our content – in print and online. We face challenging and eventful times in Scotland right now, socially and politically, and there are many ways for Scots to consume their news, with countless platforms to choose from. It is of upmost importance to me that The Herald remains your trusted and unbiased choice, offering readers not only agenda-setting news stories, but insightful comment and analysis on the biggest topics of the day’.

Edinburgh-born Catherine, who began her career on the Fife Free Press weekly newspaper, pledged The Herald will also continue to lead the way with its sport and business coverage, offer unrivalled magazine content: ‘… and will hopefully make you smile and reflect on other aspects of life with uplifting, unique content written by some of the country’s most talented journalists’.

She explained she was joining The Herald with broad experience in her locker – most recently having edited National World’s Edinburgh-based Scotland on Sunday. She recalled that many years ago she graduated from Glasgow University from where she went on to work across Scotland on weekly, evening and national titles – in reporting, features and newsdesk roles.

She continued: ‘I have countless years of experience in the print industry but I have also been at the sharp end of the transition to digital. I have a passion and belief in the importance of a strong and confident Scottish media, and I believe The Herald has long been at the forefront of this and will continue to be so under my leadership. As editor, my team can expect me to champion it at every turn. The Herald topped eight categories at the Scottish Press Awards: an enviable achievement but yet just a snapshot of our outstanding work’.

Meanwhile, Roxanne Sorooshian, the editor of The Herald’s stablemate, the Sunday National, is leaving to take up a full-time lecturing post in journalism at the City of Glasgow College. Roxanne, who began her journalistic career in 1992 as a trainee with DC Thomson in Dundee, has edited the Sunday National since January this year. She was previously deputy editor.

Newsquest Scotland editor-in-chief, Callum Baird, told HoldTheFrontPage: ‘Roxanne will be a huge loss to The National team. She’s been a top-class editor of the Sunday National – driving strong print performance and has been responsible for lots of memorable creative front pages. Before that she was a huge part of the daily newspaper operation as deputy editor. During her time with our company, she played a key role in three newspaper launches – the Sunday Herald, The National and the Sunday National – and I can say that all three papers wouldn’t have been the same without her. After 28 years with Herald and Times, she’s decided to commit to a new challenge full-time and we wish her all the best’.

3. The P&J gives a new look to its Saturday edition
The P&J, basking in the glow of being voted Scotland’s Daily Newspaper of the Year and continuing to be the UK’s best-selling regional newspaper, has given a radical new look to its Saturday paper. This co-incided with The P&J’s cover price on a Saturday upped to £2.10 from Saturday 1 October. It sells at £1.65 on weekdays.

The P&J’s editor-in-chief, Frank O’Donnell, told readers that the price rise was due to paper and energy costs ‘rising significantly’. However, he explained: ‘Your weekend edition of The P&J has a new look with more pages, more news and more features. As well as our regular supplements – your life, Farming and The Menu – we have an expanded main paper bringing our Saturday package to more than 150 pages’.

The weekend edition had a lengthy interview with its gardening guru, Jim McColl, who has retired after many years as a P&J columnist. His slot has been filled by Jacqueline Wake Young.

4. Journalists’ Charity sponsors award for young journalists
The Journalists’ Charity is sponsoring the Young Journalist of the Year category in this year’s London Press Club’s annual awards. The award will be presented at a lunch in Stationers’ Hall, London, on Wednesday 26 October.

The shortlist is: Noa Hoffman (The Sun); Isaan Khan (Daily Mail); Molly Blackall (i); Steph Spyro (Daily Express) and Natasha Livingstone (The Mail on Sunday).

This year’s guest speaker will be Conservative MP Michael Gove who began his journalistic career as a graduate trainee on The P&J, and via STV and the BBC, ultimately landed up at The Times as a leader writer before opting for a career in politics.

It could be a rather interesting speech as the former Cabinet minister, an Oxford University graduate who was earlier educated at Robert Gordon’s College in Aberdeen, has been one of the Tory MPs giving new Prime Minister Liz Truss a hard time. It was Gove and his fellow Tory MP Grant Shapps who rounded on the plans to cut the 45p higher tax rate and successfully forced a U-turn by the government.

Scottish Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine was formerly married to Gove and the couple have two children. She was given a whole page to muse on the Tory Government’s current problems and observed on Prime Minister Liz Truss’s plight: ‘The first task of any new leader, especially one with such a small mandate, is to establish themselves firmly as the apex predator, the indisputable Alpha. This she has emphatically failed to do. Granted, she might have felt she had stamped her authority by freezing out her rivals and appointing many of her long-time supporters to Cabinet. But she forgot one very important rule. Keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer. It is a well-worn cliche, but for a very good reason. It works’.

Vine points out that former Prime Ministers Theresa May and Boris Johnson were aware of the need to persuade ministers and MPs ‘… to put their own political capital on the line for you – all the while keeping trouble firmly at bay’.

And she emphasised: ‘Both understood that when it comes to someone as clever and astute as MG, you either need him to wear your colours, or lock him in a box’.

These are certainly very interesting times at Westminster.

5. English editor’s plea for a more ‘uplifting’ news agenda
An English weekly newspaper editor is supporting moves towards a more ‘uplifting’ news agenda in view of evidence suggesting newspaper readers are selectively avoiding important stories. His support follows this year’s Digital News Report by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism which has found that 38% of people said they often or sometimes avoid the news while 36% said it ‘lowers their mood’.

HoldTheFrontPage reports that John Wilson, editor of the Hereford Times, has revealed that he and his staff are deliberately seeking out ‘uplifting’ stories and placing them in key positions in the paper.

In a blog post, Wilson also praised the Yorkshire Post daily newspaper for its recent redesign saying: ‘The paper is deliberately being more cheerful’.

Announcing the relaunch, the Yorkshire Post’s editor James Mitchinson wrote to readers: ‘Research tells us that you are fed up of the relentless negative news agenda, coming at you seemingly from everywhere you turn, and so [we] have planned the newspaper to bring you more stories and features that shine a light on the very best Yorkshire and the wider region has to offer – be it amazing people, spectacular events or wondrous landscapes’.

John Wilson points out that the Yorkshire Post was not alone in identifying readers’ apparent distaste for ‘bad’ news. In his blog post, he wrote: ‘Too much bad news is a gripe we have heard many times before… but the evidence is overwhelming that the sentiment is growing and must be addressed. Some people, for instance, can allow a single report to depress them and form a conclusion that the newspaper or website they read is full of gloom. The greater number of more uplifting stories then fail to register.

‘I recently received a letter from a reader of the Hereford Times who rushed to just such a conclusion. It was only when I replied to him, pointing out page by page the stories that might be considered positive and why, that he offered to read again with a different approach. This balance of light and shade is even more imperative in print than online, where consumption of the news is more fractured and divorced from close association with familiar and understood brands.

‘A newspaper is a package that should leave people entertained as well as informed. It should elicit an emotional response too – a feeling that the reader is part of a community, a place they can be proud of and where they feel they belong. That is why at the Hereford Times we deliberately seek out uplifting stories and pictures then place them in key positions in the paper.

‘We celebrate businesses – both those just starting out and more established names passing milestones and enjoying successes. We showcase the accomplishments of schoolchildren, promote local fetes and festivals, publish the work of amateur photographers who revel in the beauty of where they live, applaud the victories of our sports teams, and organise awards and competitions to recognise excellence and outstanding contributions.

‘Local news is life: there is good and bad, but it must seek out the light as assiduously as the shade.’

6. Privitisation of Channel 4 is put on hold
The privatisation of Channel 4 has been put on hold after the UK Government’s newly-appointed Culture Secretary, Michelle Donelan, pledged to ‘re-examine’ the case for selling the channel. Donelan explained that her decision followed the view of Prime Minister Liz Truss to ‘make sure we still agree with that decision’.

Donelan added: ‘I’m the type of politician that bases their decisions on evidence and on listening. I will take that approach when it comes to Channel 4. I will be looking at the business case and announcing in due course’.

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Caithness-born Hamish Mackay is now in his 57th year as an occasional/sometimes regular contributor to the UK’s exceedingly diverse media market

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