Postcards
from Scotland

We asked a selection of SR
contributors for a memory
of an outstanding holiday in
Scotland – good or bad



Marian Pallister in Tobermory
George Chalmers in Ayr
Islay McLeod in Rockcliffe
Judith Jaafar in Carrick Castle
Barney MacFarlane on Arran



Bill Jamieson on Bute
Tessa Ransford in North Berwick
Michael Elcock on Harris
Ronnie Smith in Largs

Katie Grant on Mull
Thom Cross in Kirkcaldy
Morelle Smith in Glencoe
Bob Cant in Carnoustie

Robin Downie on Arran
Bruce Gardner in Glen Livet
Fiona MacDonald on Tiree
Walter Humes at home

Jill Stephenson at Loch Duich
Quintin Jardine in Elie
Iain Macmillan in Gleneagles
Douglas Marr on Skye
Andrew McFadyen in Kilmarnock

R D Kernohan on Arran
David Torrance on Iona
Catherine Czerkawska at Loch Ken
Chris Holligan in Elie

Rose Galt in Girvan
Alex Wood on Arran
Andrew Hook in Glasgow
Alasdair McKillop in St Andrews

Sheila Hetherington on Arran
Anthony Seaton on Ben Nevis
Paul Cockburn at Loch Ness
Jackie Kemp in a taxi
Angus Skinner on Skye

15.11.11
No. 479

George Gunn

I don't want to get into a ding dong with Robert Livingston (14 November). We can't both be wrong, but...  
     As to the individual in Moray who has a passion for Beckett – I know her and like her and share her passion. In the best of all possible worlds there is room for everything.      Robert should also know there is no 'proper' way to spell anything in Gaelic.
     I am not 'disappointed' as I am still writing.
     I am also glad that at last Creative Scotland has got around to appointing someone to be responsible for theatre provision in Scotland.
     As to HI-Arts, Robert does 'manage' everything and that's not 'bile', it's a reality. Realities, however, can change.
    Let us just concentrate on the issue: In any other European country of a similar size Tosg, Grey Coast and Theatre Hebrides would be championed. Since 1992 Grey Coast raised and spent in the north over £1 million on touring productions and community projects – some 50 in all. Yet there was no commitment from any agency to the long-term future.
     The fact is that HI-Arts and the SAC as it was presided over this decline. It's about talent being lost. It is the writers, actors, directors and audiences who suffer – not arts development officers.
     All the things he cites as a 'success', if some drastic change doesn't happen, will be gone like the 'snow that melts the soonest'. Actions, not opinions, matter. Complacency shovels the dirt over the box.

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Today's banner

Kingston Bridge, Glasgow, at dusk
Photograph by
Islay McLeod




The Scotsman newspaper,

and the man with

the golden hiya

 

Kenneth Roy

 

The Johnston Press, publisher of the Scotsman and the Falkirk Herald, not to mention the Todmorden News, has a new chief executive. His name is Ashley Highfield and he joined the company earlier this month. His arrival in Scotland is interesting for several reasons.
     Johnston, which began life in my native town as the publisher of a local weekly paper but has expanded more than a little since those pioneering days in 1767, acquired Scotsman Publications Ltd in 2006, at which point it announced that it had become 'the second largest regional publisher in the UK'. To some of us, the notion of a great newspaper and once-proud Scottish institution being regarded by its new proprietor as 'regional' – to be spoken of in the same breath as the mighty Todmorden News – was an insult to the Scotsman and to Scotland. Let that pass. No, let's not. Let's note it as indicative of a point of view.
     This statement of the company's size, the fact of its ownership of so many newspapers (270) on both sides of the border, was a sharp reminder of its position of monopoly or near-monopoly in many parts of the country. The desirabililty of such a situation has never been properly challenged. There is, however, a downside to this rapid expansion, most of which occurred just before the crash of 2008. The company is burdened with a whack of long-term debt and has only just returned to profitability after posting a £114m loss in 2009.
     More worryingly from the perspective of its new chief executive, the company's core business is in what the Americans call a sunset industry: print newspapers.
     The sun in the winter sky can be viewed with some clarity through the telescope of the latest audited circulation figures. Scotland's online media magazine, The Drum, headlined its report on the Scottish stats for October 'Real shock horror story' and its seasoned analyst, Hamish Mackay, calls the figures 'hugely depressing for media buffs like myself who adore newspapers in all their shapes and sizes'.
     The figures are indeed shocking, though not terribly surprising. The saddest part of them is the near-collapse of the Sunday Herald's once-solid base. Since it was re-invented in a hybrid magazine format, it has lost almost a third of its readers and now sells fewer than 29,000 copies a week. It is a lively, well-written paper with many stars, elegantly designed, and deserves to do a lot better. But in the sunset industry, quality counts for little: the sun goes down regardless. Its stablemate, the Herald, which in its 1980s heyday was selling 120,000 a day, is down to 45,813 in October 2011. In the last year alone it has haemorrhaged 13% of its readers.
     What, then, is the prospect facing Mr Highfield as he surveys the state of his flagship 'regional' titles in Edinburgh? The Scotsman used to sell 80,000+, but has seen its circulation more than halved to last month's 38,787 – a dispiriting figure, although its editor has succeeded, where some have not, in restricting the year-on-year loss to just under 10%. Remarkably, the combined sale of the Scotsman and its Sunday sister is now less than either paper was selling independently 25 years ago.

 

Online, I can confirm, is indeed a wonderful place to be, as we have discovered in our small way since February 2008 when we abandoned
dirty, old-fashioned print and a readership of 700 loyal souls and went marching off into cyberspace.


     Enter Mr Highfield. Clearly the Johnston Press chaired by power man Ian Russell – repeat power man, not power mad; he is big in gas – is investing considerable faith in its new chief executive. It has been reported that he has received a 'golden hello' – what we in Scotland prefer to call a golden hiya – of half a million pounds in shares. It cannot all be a form of compensation for having to live among the flyting Scots, whose idea of civilised debate has been so gloriously exhibited all over the Scottish Review in recent days. There must be an element of this impressive bonus (for doing nothing at all so far) which is related to the company's expectation of what Mr Highfield can deliver. So it is worth having a look at him.
     Significantly perhaps, he comes from a background in new technology and online publishing; he has no experience in newspapers. Ominously, he is also described as a management consultant. It is therefore fairly safe to assume that (a) the Johnston Press may be seeing a new future for itself online; and (b) it will be employing fewer journalists in the future.
     Online, I can confirm, is indeed a wonderful place to be, as we have discovered in our small way since February 2008 when we abandoned dirty, old-fashioned print and a readership of 700 loyal souls and went marching off into cyberspace. In an outstanding week we have 20,000 visitors to the Scottish Review; in an good one around 15,000. A single edition last summer was read by 18,000 people. No doubt, if we had any money, we could give the Sunday Herald a run for its. We depend on word-of-mouth and such occasional gifts as BBC Scotland's lovely coverage of the George Gunn/Robert Livingston bust-up. 
     Imagine, then, what could be done by so experienced an online practitioner as Ashley Highfield, who has at his disposal that wonderful thing – a marketing budget – and such gifted journalists as the only person in Scotland who is officially not a misogynist. 
     Sooner or later – probably sooner – a serious newspaper in Britain will ditch print, giving it up as a lost cause, and go for broke online. Could it be the Guardian, which in print is sinking faster in the west than most of its rivals, but has an internet-savvy readership? Or might we see some pre-emptive strike north of the border – Mr Highfield, anxious to justify his golden hiya, leading the dear old Scotsperson into some revolutionary reincarnation? Stranger things have undoubtedly happened.

 

2Kenneth Roy is editor of the Scottish Review