The National Newspaper

The National launchBy Alex Mooney

The National emerged from the womb somewhat prematurely last week. At an emaciated 32 pages, and far from fully formed, Scotland’s first pro-independence daily title was clearly a work in progress.

As launches go, it looked like a car crash, defying all conventional wisdom on how to enter a fiercely competitive market with at least a fighting chance of surviving.

It should have been dead in the water after its first five pilot issues. Even the basics were ignored – not having the barcode sorted and an agreement in place with the big multiples who make or break sales. People in the business were utterly baffled by that.

Then there was the content – or lack of it. Exclusive news, features, sport, reviews, lifestyle, culture got cameo roles. Instead, we had pieces on indy from the usual suspects – a small band of familiar columnists and politicos from the referendum campaign.

Horror of horrors, it didn’t even have a crossword or TV listings. Although that has been added this week, you wonder why it was only an afterthought.

The broadsheet clutter-free design in tabloid format had acres of white space with just a pull quote or a picture. To some that might look good but any hack will tell you it’s a way of filling pages quickly and cheaply. And that was the case here. Journalist Kevin McKenna said it was “a house still waiting for the furniture to arrive”.

So its fate was sealed. Killed at birth. Or should have been. Of course, the opposite happened. It leapt from the womb in the rudest of health. A launch run of 50k was doubled next day to 100k. Punters couldn’t get enough.

Extraordinary by any standards. Proving we live in extraordinary times. Some of the 1.6 million who voted Yes defiantly wanted their own paper – any paper – good, bad or indifferent.

Newsquest, owners of the National and stablemates the Herald and Sunday Herald, sensed an earner. Not known for philanthropy, they wanted to test the water – at minimal cost. So no blame for the National’s failings could be attributed to those who put it together.

The whole project took just three weeks from conception to delivery. That’s astonishing in an industry where national launches can take a year or more and cost millions. It‘s also a tribute to the talents of editor Richard Walker and his dwindling band of staff who must have burned gallons of midnight oil to make it happen.

Now the pilot is over and the paper’s got the green light to continue. Perhaps Walker – who admitted it was ‘crazy’ to launch so quickly – will get the budget he needs and deserves to ensure his baby thrives.

He will have to fight for extra staff to cope with the increased workload and relieve the stress on his existing journalists who deserve some respite from their almighty efforts. He must also ensure the furniture arrives soon.

As the only daily title in Scotland to support independence its arrival was welcomed by indy fans as going some way to addressing the ‘democratic deficit’ of the mainstream media which, with the exception of the Sunday Herald, backed the No campaign.

The other side are convinced it’s no more than state propaganda – the SNP government’s Pravda. The Nat. The paper, however, insists it backs independence and not the SNP.

It’s also viewed by critics as a cynical ploy by Newsquest to cash in on the voracious appetite of those Yes voters still enthused by the struggle to win another referendum at some point.

Regardless of your view on indy, it’s difficult to argue against its existence in democratic or commercial terms. There is a sound case for it to survive on both counts. Scotland’s London-owned papers have had it too easy for too long.

Of further interest is whether it will persuade No voters to change their minds. Broadsheets tend to have readers with informed and fixed political opinions and are not easily susceptible to change. The National will be no different.

Preaching to the converted was a major failing of the Yes campaign – 73 per cent of over 55s rejected indy but were mostly neglected before the vote. Yet they are the biggest group of newspaper buyers in the declining world of print.

A mid-market tabloid taking on the Daily Record, Sun and Daily Mail would have been the obvious vehicle to win converts. A paper to at least rival, if not better, its bigger competitors. A paper that breaks stories and has great content right across the spectrum plus big-name columnists.

In short, a fine title in its own right with a style, personality and wit that people will buy regardless of their political leanings.

It would also make sense for the National to shift its position down-market as it would not then be competing with sister title the Herald on a daily basis.

However, there’s little chance of that happening because it would require considerable investment – including new jobs – and Newsquest, a subsidiary of US media giant Gannet, is unlikely to cough up. There is already a chequered history of disputes between the company and the NUJ over its treatment of journalists in Glasgow.

I suspect they’ll take the safe route of appealing to a limited but guaranteed niche of post-referendum activists who will support the paper in principle regardless of its quality.

Walker will have to keep the more extreme voices at bay and reach out to the many on both sides of the debate – as Nicola Sturgeon has urged. That would give his paper real purpose and ensure its long-term survival.



Categories: Media

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40 replies

  1. Fair comment but they have made the effort and the popular media has gone into overdrive dumbing down Like the huge protest at FASLANE not even reported I would never have know we’re it not for the NATIONAL SAOR ALBA

  2. To be fair, the Herald on Monday included a fair sized illustrated report on the Faslane protest.

  3. Early days. But I would love to see (1) informed and objective interviews with Scots of all political persuasions, interviews that don’t take the views of the interviewees OR of the readership for granted; (2) stories that reflect the concerns of people in all parts of the country, including the parts that lie outside the Central Belt and the YES strongholds; (3) opinion where it belongs — in the opinion columns — rather than in every story; and (4) effort made to reflect the concerns of the smaller parties that contributed so much to the YES coalition. Swelling tide should lift all the boats!

  4. So, I need another badge, I’m one of the 27% 😉

  5. they need to start focusing on the misreporting of the other papers and the BBC. To get noticed they need to start a fight

    • Hear, hear, to that Hugh. They could rip the Daily Record apart for the VOW just for starters and not worry that it would attract any more flak than is already being dished out by that rag.

    • Good idea. They could do this by a page for readers to write in with their citizen journalism critiques. ‘Media Review’ section. As long as the critiques were respectful (no sweary words or calling folk scum) and checked out factually, the paper needn’t say it actually endorses such views by publishing them, merely that it is facillitating public discussion and furthering the public interest in accurate and balanced journalism.

  6. You are right that it is catering for a niche market of post-ref indy supporters but its very appearance on the shelf each day is a little advert for indy to Nawbags and a reminder we haven’t gone away. It’s a daily reminder that we haven’t gone back into our box, and that the indyref campaign continues in new channels. It’s a daily visible sign to our opponents that things haven’t returned to normal – as they fondly thought.

    In short, you can’t judge the impact of a newspaper simply by its sales.

    Nawbags may not buy it, but they will still have a sly peak in it just to see what we’re saying. Copies left around in public places, offices, coffee shops, buses, libraries, will be read by sceptics, the curious, and those too cheap to buy a paper of their own. National TV will be obliged to include it in its coverage, especially as from time to time the National will have a scoop.

    Drip, drip, over a longer period of time it will reach the Nawbags and have some effect on them.

    Also, politically it is important to consolidate the gains we have already made, even if we stall at 45%. That we don’t drop back is of tremendous importance. However there are some signs that Yes is continuing to make converts and the National can only help with that.

    • It will also give handy armour in debate. Even the most alternative thinkers need something checkable to reference their arguments to. And the broadsheet audience will benefit more from that.

    • I don’t like being called a ‘nawbag’ : best not to belittle more than half the voting population – it might work even more against the ongoing independence campaign than in the referendum. By the way, a lot of the ‘naws’ probably weren’t your ‘opponents’ until you cast us in that role – we were just Scottish voters, like yersel’.

      • Fair comment. Guess it’s time to move on from the terminology of 45%-55%, assuming that yes voters want the figures to change in the future.

  7. I like the National and getting over the Herald which I’ve bought for 35 years. Gardham has been a disgrace, hence the switch. Like the Scotsman it deserves to go down, Scotland doesn’t need anti-Scottish papers, the piper should call the tune.

    • I still buy a Herald on a Saturday but am taking The National at least until the May election.
      Hopefully circulation numbers will allow them to ensure it will be recognised as a quality publication.
      Would it be worthwhile for them to analyse some of the more extreme articles published in the other rags and tear them apart a little to help reduce the brain washing that goes on under the pretence of news.
      If sales are high in any particular area, ensure there is some coverage of news from that area. Don’t forget to support loyalty.
      Some agricultural / farming coverage to support our food producers and some investigative articles raising awareness of manufacturing businesses in Scotland.
      Some positive news items from NHS Scotland (as well as the negative news that of course also needs reporting.)

  8. Immense fun can be had by laying a copy on top of a pile of Records 😉

  9. It’s improving by the day.

    However, I can’t see it taking too many readers from the red tops but it will definitely hit The Herald, Scotsman, P& J and Courier and might just capture some who buy The Daily Heil.

    It can’t be all things to all people and the only way to combat the Unionist red tops such as the Record, Sun, Express etc is to replicate them and publish a second pro Independence paper (I don’t know who would be prepared to do that) filled with the usual red top crap of Football, Soaps Celebs and Sxxual Titillation.

    A sure sign that The Record is panicking is the massive increase in smut and titillation since they disgraced themselves with ‘The Vow’.

    • I see the strategy in this, but I can’t see the financials working out. DR sales are about 200,000 copies daily for a huge amount of content (most of it utter crap and populist, but nonetheless…) and this must cost a fortune to produce. Without the guaranteed sales it’s a non-starter.

  10. I like it and hope it continues – they made the effort, no one else did.

  11. I will buy the National every day. I want to read a paper that represents the 1.6 million yes voters. As for the jeers of the Unionists calling it McPravda don’t they know that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. I sick and tired of their childish behaviour.

  12. Whether market driven or ethically, even perhaps a mixture of both, it doesn’t matter a damn. At a time when our media has turned its back on half the country’s population someone has taken the opportunity to provide them with a voice.

    Our media have nowhere to hide, they decided what was good for us and bent every effort to influence the population. They chose to ignore us, aid in our demonisation, aid in the denigration of the Scottish population’s ability to run its own affairs and openly declare their support for the current broken, anti democratic, elitist and corrupt system of government we enjoy today.

    We now know exactly where we stand as regards the media. We know who speaks with our voice and interests and who does not.

    I know where I’m spending my subscription money.

  13. Good quality journalism will win every time as far as I am concerned. It is why I stopped buying papers over two years ago..
    I dont always agree with McWhirter, Pilger etc, but I love the way they convey what they have to say.
    BTW. What does this mean?
    “Walker will have to keep the more extreme voices at bay and reach out to the many on both sides of the debate”
    I quite like the occasional ‘extreme voice’ so long as it is articulated well!

  14. Unable to but it today (Wed). Tried to google it; there is no easily found link. Allsorts of other papers but no National.

  15. It’s the daily edition of the Sunday Herald, not a competitor to the Herald. It has no reason to go ‘down market’.

  16. ‘Preaching to the converted was a major failing of the Yes campaign – 73 per cent of over 55s rejected indy but were mostly neglected before the vote.’

    Umm, maybe you have other sources but Lord Ashcroft’s figure of 73% for No applied to the 65+group.

    It’s unfair to say that ANY group was ‘neglected’, as though this problem is something you could see at the time and others couldn’t. The only way to get through to those not on social media was to have in place an SBC and a range of pro-indy newspapers – a bit of a tall order, wouldn’t you say? Activists were very aware of what they were up against, hence the demonstrations outside the BBC, efforts to have Salmond debate with Cameron, etc.

    I have been impressed by the fledgling National and will continue to support it. I am certainly not impressed by the suggestion that the paper move down market and can’t see its journalists agreeing to do so. The National should continue doing what it is doing (and well): thoughtful articles and a pro-independence editorial policy. I hope the emphasis on quality journalism will enable the paper to grow – certainly there seem to be a lot of us determined to give it a chance.

  17. The last paragraph was nonsense, and the main reason why print media is going the way of the Dodo. Most of the politically active population of Scotland is way to the left of the politicos – we don’t need shutting up, we need to be heard. The Brit establishment considers Alex Salmond “extreme”, we don’t need to follow their example.

    Let the people speak!

  18. as long as it tells the truth i will buy it

  19. It’s nice to be able to buy a paper that doesn’t nauseate me.
    I don’t mind contrary viewpoints so long as they are based on reason, but the continued Goebellsesk tactics of the mainstream papers meant I just stopped buying them.

    If an SNP politician does wrong, I hope the National will expose them to public scrutiny, but especially I’d really like to see refutals of the daily output of lies from the BritNats.

  20. Protesting outside the BBC while holding the Smith report and singing god save the queen and demanding balanced reporting seems a good idea

    Who could complain about singing God save the Queen and asking for freedom of expression – it makes them the demon empire

    BBC reports will get dizzy

    • I am glad that The National has appeared. It is refreshing to have an alternative.

      I do, however, join those who have expressed the hope that it will move in the direction of being a solid source of news, and not just a mirror-opposite (sorry, no pun intended) of the unionist press. Readers should not have to take the news stories in their daily paper with a grain of salt — be it unionist salt, or pro-independence salt. Opinion should be on the opinion pages, and nowhere else. The news stories should be thoroughly fact-checked; and if the facts in an important story support favourable reporting of somebody not normally well-disposed to the independence agenda, then that report should be favourable, without any cavilling or faint-praise. In the context of news reporting, the default position should be (1) all the facts, clearly presented, and (2) fair assessment, based on those facts.

      Readers are not accustomed to fair treatment. People have got into the odious habit of buying a newspaper or accessing digital media in order to see/hear their own (uninformed, fact-free) views reflected back at them. There should, however, be a market for a newspaper that makes truth the guiding principle above all else. If The National becomes known for truthfulness, it will be a welcome relief to people who are tired of the partisan nonsense, and those same people may then begin to read the opinion pages with an open mind.

      The National is doing well at the moment, because there’s a pent-up demand among independence supporters, and because it’s a novelty. If it is to be doing as well or (one hopes) better in a year’s time, it will likely because it has broken out of the polarized print-media straitjacket and reinvented the daily newspaper in a way that makes it essential to people in their everyday lives, whatever side of the political spectrum they inhabit.

  21. It’s clear the appetite and business model was there from 2011, I wonder why it was left until after the referendum to launch a pro-indy newspaper ?

  22. I’ve liked it so far but I agree with the article that it would be good to see the resources put in to make it a paper that does break stories and has great content across the spectrum and big name commentators. Perhaps by continuing to support it we leave open the possibility of that at some point in the future.

  23. Dear Alex Mooney,

    You write here so authoratatively about the newspaper industry; you are clearly a seasoned observer. The problem is I find that – like so many journalists – you are too seasoned. What doesn’t fit a pre-conceived template is deemed unworkable.

    And yet, and yet, people and reality don’t work to templates. There is such a yearning for talking truth to power – is it really so surprising that the National has been a success just as the other mendacious snivelling papers see their sales plummet?

    I agree that there is a job to do to reach out to those who voted No and that would take real funding and imagination. How could those ever be found in the existing newspaper industry?

  24. I agree with what Margo said that reaching out to Noes would be done, one conversation at a time, peer to peer, and that if each of us converts one No to Yes amongst our social circle the job will be done.

    Print media can hinder that natural peer to peer transition by screaming out terror, but I’m not sure it will be what creates the shift from No to Yes. It might aid it, but won’t be the primary cause.

    I think for the Nawbags one big obstacle was ‘implementation’. The fact that so many administrative systems like a central bank, Treasury, DVLC, PAYE, etc. would have to be set up in Scotland from scratch was a real terror for them. It obviously wasn’t a problem for me, I could see that this would take time, and the systems would have to be created ahead of the transfers of powers, but that’s because I possess an imagination. But many of the cautious don’t. For them independence was like staring into an abyss because they couldn’t imagine how the process would take shape.

  25. Googled: the national-newspaper-Scotland-pro independence-newsquest, nothing but media comment. no website found. if punters can’t easily locate that guess this cynical experiment will be over by the new year. digital not print is the future.

  26. Why is it a ‘cynical’ experiment?

    • programmed to fail?…scant financial resources in a medium, print, on the verge of extinction. online newspapers being the future. the national’s demise owing to declining circulation could be used as a sign that the movement for independence was, in real terms, on the wane. with dirty tricks and project fear invigorated by the “threat” of possible nat gains at westminster it fits the pattern. the britstate, insanely panicked during the ref, is not going to surrender a third of its landmass without a fight. newsquest, being american owned, may be quite happy to oblige.

  27. What we discovered in Indyref is that the acid test is how the news is reported not who writes the opinion columns.

    The Herald and Scotsman and Guardian all have some great opinion writers, but the power of a newspaper is in how it reports the news – this is what shapes peoples sense of reality (precisely because it does not seem to be opinion).

    On that score the National is starting to do as excellently as the Sunday Herald (I agree with Brian Powell that “It’s the daily edition of the Sunday Herald, not a competitor to the Herald”). When I was looking for critical news analysis of Osborne’s farcical economics, the Herald, Scotsman and Guardian had nothing critical in their news reporting, whereas the National got to the heart of it from the front page in. If it continues like that, it will thrive for its news alone.

    HOWEVER, there is a gap in the market – Saturdays.

    Anyone up for putting together a radical Independent newspaper one day a week drawing on the analysis and critical exposures in all the blogs – from Bella to Wings – and drawing in solid news – from Commonweal’s promised news service to bright-green.org – and, pretty please, asking Iain W and Ian B and Lesley R and George K if they would contribute too? As well as, of course, as many of the voices the establishment thinks are extreme for pointing out that there is a real alternative, that the problem isn’t the poverty of the many but the theft by the few.

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