MEDIA REVIEW BY HAMISH MACKAY

Scottish publisher HNM rationalises its weekly newspaper output

Five North and North-east Scotland loss-making weekly newspapers titles are disappearing from newsagents shelves as Inverness-based Highland News & Media (HNM) rationalises its newspaper publishing output.

MEDIA REVIEW by HAMISH MACKAY

Print editions of the Turriff Advertiser, Inverurie Advertiser and Ellon Advertiser in Aberdeenshire are ending. However these communities will continue to be served via HNM’s Grampian Online website.

Further north, in Inverness, the Highland News is to be incorporated into the publisher’s flagship paper, The Inverness Courier. And the North Star, is to be incorporated into the Ross-shire Journal.

HNM’s publishing director Steve Barron told staff: ‘Highland News & Media is transitioning to what will eventually be a fully digital publishing model. But print remains important and we will treat it with professionalism and care.’

He said more than 10% of the company’s readers are now opting for digital subscriptions instead of printed newspapers. About 50,000 have become registered users and 20,000 have signed up to receive email newsletters.

Steve explained: ‘The challenge is to accelerate these numbers whilst responsibly managing our print brands. There is undoubtedly a strong appetite for the content we publish – we can see that from the success we have had in acquiring digital subscribers – but to reach our ambitious goals we need to put even more focus on our readers’ digital experience.

‘Not only are the titles mentioned above unprofitable, they also swallow an enormous amount of resources and focus which would be better deployed to our digital platforms.

‘In the Inverness newsroom there will be no reduction of the current headcount. Anticipating this change in strategy, and therefore taking a decision not to fill any vacancies throughout the summer, means we are able to avoid any editorial redundancies directly associated with this change.

‘In the Turriff newsroom I anticipate a reduction of one role. This is necessary due to removing the requirement to layout and curate three titles each week.

‘In the sales support department I anticipate a reduction of two full-time equivalent roles. This reduction is necessary due to a downturn in classified advertising, fewer incoming enquiries, as well as the decision to reduce the number of titles we publish and the associated reduction in workload.

‘A consultation process has begun with affected employees and whilst they cannot be ruled out, we will work to try to avoid compulsory redundancies by considering redeployment, voluntary redundancies and vacancy management.’

HNM recently announced across-the-board cover price increases for its print portfolio. ABC figures for 2021, the most recent available, showed that the Highland News had an average circulation of 853 and the North Star’s stood at 533.

World Cup produces interesting issues for newspaper coverage

A couple of interesting snippets from newspaper coverage of the current World Cup competition in Qatar which, incidentally, has been throwing up far too many distinctly boring games for my liking.

Welsh newspaper, Wales on Sunday, got into the mood to mark the opening of the soccer bonanza by changing its name to Bales on Sunday in honour of Wales captain Gareth Bale. Its sister title Wales Online also temporarily amended its name to Cymru Online. Sadly, Wales was the first country to exit the competition.

Meanwhile an astonishing coincidence arose in the coverage of the World Cup by the Daily Mirror, The Sun and the Daily Star. One of the major tasks which faces editorial executives each night is choosing the main heading on the front page of next day’s newspaper – a task which can involve considerable deliberation.

Incredibly, following the turgid 0-0 draw between England and the USA, all three of these tabloids appeared with the same huge front page heading: ‘Yawn in the USA’. A coincidence which mightn’t happen again in 1000 years, I reckon.

 Independent review launched into the Public Order Bill

Ten organisations, including the National Union of Journalists (NUJ), have urged the UK government’s Home Secretary Suella Braverman, RIGHT,  to change the law after the controversial arrest of three English journalists.

The NUJ has joined forces with civil rights campaign groups including Liberty, Big Brother Watch and Amnesty International to launch an independent review into the Public Order Bill which is currently going through Parliament.

The call for change comes after Hertfordshire Police officers arrested LBC reporter Charlotte Lynch, documentary maker Rich Felgate and photographer Tom Bowles while they were covering a Just Stop Oil demonstration on the M25. All three were arrested on suspicion of ‘conspiracy to commit a public nuisance’, introduced under the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, but were later released without charge.

In an open letter to the Home Secretary, the signatories warned plans under the Bill to create more powers for police to restrict the right to protest would further ‘curtail individuals’ right to freedom of expression’.

They wrote: ‘These arrests threaten press freedom in the UK. Journalistic ethics require journalists to protect their sources. Arresting journalists for simply attending a demonstration is unjustifiable, unlawful, and highly likely to be a breach of Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights as incorporated into domestic law by the Human Rights Act 1998.

‘Preventing or deterring journalists from reporting on issues of public interest such as environmental protests will furthermore create a chilling effect for freedom of expression and access to information.

‘The offence of intentionally or recklessly causing public nuisance was placed on a statutory footing by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022. The offence was criticised by Big Brother Watch, Liberty and others during the passage of the legislation through Parliament for being too broad in scope and unduly limiting a wide range of democratic activities.

‘The arrests of journalists regrettably evidence our concern that this power is dangerously broad and poses a threat to British democracy and respect for fundamental human rights.

‘In light of these events and in the context of creating additional police powers to restrict the right to protest, we call on you to commission an independent review into the new public nuisance offence and both pause and reconsider plans to curtail individuals’ right to freedom of expression through the Public Order Bill, which will disproportionately affect communities for whom this right is most urgent.’

In response to the letter, a Home Office spokesman told the Press Association (PA): ‘The Home Secretary has been clear that we need to do more to protect the rights of the law-abiding majority to go about their business. Not only is the serious disruption we have experienced recently extremely dangerous for all involved, it costs the taxpayer millions and is draining police resources.

‘The police need, and have requested, strengthened powers so they can tackle this rise in guerrilla protest tactics. That’s exactly what the Public Order Bill will do and it will also help protect press freedoms – previously protesters have tried shutting down printing presses which is completely unacceptable.’

More working-class backgrounds are needed in journalism

The issue of attracting more people from working-class backgrounds into journalism is to be examined during the National Council for the Training of Journalists’ (NCTJ) equality, diversity and inclusion conference in London on 30 November.

The conference will address a range of topics with the working-class backgrounds issue to the fore as well as retention and progression, and making inclusion a pro-active priority in the newsroom.

It will also bring together bursary recipients, mentors, sponsors and supporters to celebrate the work of the Journalism Diversity Fund which has helped more than 400 people from diverse backgrounds begin their journalism careers.

Mike Hill will chair the part of the programme titled – ‘Attracting more people from working-class backgrounds into journalism’ – and the speakers are Toby Bakare, producer, Channel 4 News, Helen Dalby, audience and content director, Reach plc North East and Yorkshire, and Poppie Platt, culture assistant, The Daily Telegraph.

Interestingly, in his tribute to the much acclaimed journalist Ian Jack, right, who died recently, Scottish-born Andrew Marr, a former editor of The Independent, pointedly commented on how few current journalists come from working-class roots.

Andrew wrote that Ian was ‘one of the great, wise originals of British journalism, strongly rooted in working-class Scotland – unlike most of the trade these days – and with a deep understanding and love of industrial working-class culture.’

Hamish Mackay’s media column appears each week in the SCOTTISH REVIEW

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