Scotland has its first new daily newspaper in decades. The National hit the news stands for the first time on Monday with a cover price of 50p ($0.80).
The first edition of the upmarket tabloid is stylish, intelligent and outward looking.
The front page splash is a story about charities demanding Scotland is given control over welfare policy from Westminster. Inside, there’s a profile of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and a double-page spread on the Tunisian Presidential election.
Launching a new title is a bold move in a cut-throat market that is already the most competitive on the planet, with 17 daily newspapers printed in Scotland for a population of five million.
Furthermore, the newspaper industry is facing the biggest crisis in its history with circulation falling virtually everywhere and profits down. A look south of the border should cause anyone who loves newspapers to shudder.
Trinity Mirror, the UK’s biggest regional newspaper publisher, has just announced that it is closing seven of its English titles, one of which can trace its roots back to 1855. Whole divisions of good, hard working journalists with local knowledge are being sacked and expertise lost.
The National’s unique selling point is that it will be the only daily paper on sale in Scotland to support independence.
In September’s referendum, 45 per cent of Scots voted to break away from the UK but the only major title to back ‘Yes’ was the Sunday Herald. It was rewarded with a massive sales boost, more than doubling its circulation in the week after the vote.
The Sunday Herald’s editor, Richard Walker, is the man in charge of the launch.
“It’s a new title for Scotland, it’s a new outlook and it’s offering an alternative to the other titles that are available. We are really excited about it.”
The Glasgow-based paper benefitted because its editorial stance reflected the views of people in the city, more than half of whom voted to leave the UK.
Walker says, “Clearly Glasgow was a Yes city in the referendum, but there are other Yes cities, notably Dundee, and there is support for independence throughout the country. We believe that people who voted Yes deserve a newspaper which reflects that view.”
The launch reflects how Scotland has been changed by the referendum and the extraordinary events since then, with the Scottish National Party more than trebling their membership.
However, good writing is as important as distinctive politics and at the moment the paper is heavily reliant on a skeleton of staff from the Sunday Herald who are being asked to do more. Insiders say that the few freelancers brought on-board were only approached in the past week.
The thinness of the first edition was most obvious on the sports pages, with no reports or analysis of Saturday’s football. That’s a serious omission in a country where many people read their paper from the back.
If The National is going to build a readership beyond committed Nationalists, and survive beyond its first week, it will require more breadth and serious investment.