A new documentary series charting daily life at one of Scotland’s main media groups promises to shed new light on the challenges facing the country’s newspaper industry.
The Papers, which follows editorial staff at Newsquest Scotland’s flagship titles – the Herald, the Herald on Sunday, the Evening Times, the National and the Sunday National – reveals how its editor-in-chief has been forced to make £1.4 million in cuts to his budget in a year, and cancel holidays and days off simply in order to ensure the editions hit the newsstands.
The first episode of the two-part documentary, which airs on Wednesday on BBC One Scotland, covers key developments in the Brexit process as the group prepares to launch two new Sunday titles.
It follows editorial meetings concerning budget cuts and missed print and digital circulation targets, with staff talking candidly about the challenges they face.
Donald Martin, the editor-in-chief of Newsquest Scotland, who also edits the Herald and the Evening Times, tells filmmakers: “In about a year we’ve probably taken close to £1.4m out of editorial.
“That’s a hefty, hefty number.
“Those cuts we’ve made have taken us right down to the bone.
“It’s incredibly tough to produce quality newspapers if you don’t have the resources.”
He adds: “We’re very, very tight. Holidays get cancelled, days off get cancelled, just to get the papers out.”
The episode, entitled Off Stone – newspaper jargon for an edition being ready to hit the printing presses – interviews numerous journalists, including Andy Clark, a 30-year veteran of the newspaper industry who works as assistant editor of the Herald on Sunday.
“Papers are weird, because you feel it [when] the desk next to you doesn’t have someone in it, and someone leaves and they’re not replaced,” he explains. “Things don’t stop, you just find a way to do more.”
A central theme in the first episode is the difficulty of monetising digital traffic to make up for declining print circulations – a problem that is far from unique to the Glasgow-based titles.
An editorial meeting hears how, six months after the decision was made to cut the Herald’s dedicated digital team, it is “way, way behind” in terms of online page view targets.
The programme also features the National’s editor Callum Baird as he elects not to cover a visit to Scotland by then Prime Minister Theresa May after she bans the title from attending the event.
The Herald was founded in 1783 and is the eighth oldest daily paper in the world.
The title was simplified from the Glasgow Herald in 1992. Following the closure of the Sunday Herald, the Herald on Sunday was launched as Sunday edition on 9 September 2018.
The Papers, Series 1, Off Stone – BBC One Scotland, 9pm Wednesday.