Although publishing empire DC Thomson (DCT) has reported a pre-tax loss of £180 million in the year ending March 2020, compared to a profit of £21 million in 2019, we shouldn't be too alarmed that one of Scotland's most vaunted and financially sound companies is facing major money problems.
Press Gazette explains that the initial COVID-19 lockdown caused a temporary slump in the value of DCT's investments, including a £79.5 million write down in the value of its Wild & Wolf gifts and retail business, and on its print newspaper and magazine titles. However, the Dundee-headquartered company, whose newspaper titles include the Press and Journal
(P&J), The Courier
and the Sunday Post
, points out that its investments more than recovered their March drop in value later in the year, and it now plans to sell Wild & Wolf. Its revenue for the year ending 31 March 2020 was £214.8 million – down 2.8% from £220.9 million in 2019.
DCT chairman, Christopher Thomson, explained that the company had been preparing for the decline in traditional revenues to continue and COVID-19 had accelerated this trend. Despite recovery in the second quarter, the publisher decided to write down the values of its newspaper print titles and free magazine, Stylist
, which was forced to go digital-only, and then lean on home deliveries as commuters stayed at home.
In new full-year accounts, Thomson said: 'The COVID-19 pandemic has been, we expect, a one-off event but even so we have taken a cautious accounting view which does not affect our consistent view that our titles and brands have a long-term future and value to our stakeholders. We still have strong belief in all of our established brands and are engaged in both strengthening the underlying brands by continued cost efficiencies and in working on building new valuable revenue streams in all businesses'.
Thomson said the company had seen stronger than expected circulation sales during lockdown and good growth in both digital and print subscriptions in almost all areas. Pre-COVID-19, advertising revenue fell by 7.5% to £34.3 million, while circulation revenue grew by 3.1% to £82 million with the inclusion of Aceville Publications and PSP Media Group, bought in September 2018 and April 2019 respectively. Without these two acquisitions, advertising revenue fell 10% and circulation revenue fell 2.4%. Newspaper circulation revenue fell by 5%, with cover price rises offsetting volume declines, while like-for-like magazine print copy sales fell only 1%.
The DCT chairman was 'encouraged' by loyalty shown to some of its brands during the pandemic including the People's Friend
and the Beano
. However, it closed five women's and children's magazines – Sweet
, This Is
, No. 1
, Scottish Wedding
and Slime Factory
– which had become 'commercially unsustainable'.
Between April and June, at the height of the UK's strict lockdown, advertising revenue fell by more than 60% year-on-year and newsstand circulations were down 16%. However, the company points out that the ratio of 71% circulation revenue to 29% advertising in the 2020 full-year (from 68% to 32% in 2019) gave the business 'some additional protection against declines compared to other publishing businesses and is important in the context of the competition from businesses such as Facebook and Google'.
The Scottish Mail on Sunday
(SMS) has revealed that Ken MacQuarrie, a former member of the so-called BBC Scotland 'Gaelic Mafia', is being paid £325,000 a year to monitor whether the BBC is biased.
Isle of Mull-born, MacQuarrie, 68, a graduate of Edinburgh University, who stepped down as the BBC's director of nations and regions in December, has been given the grandiose title of 'Executive Sponsor Safeguarding Impartiality' – in other words, the man monitoring anti-bias, and he will train staff on the 'impartiality' standards expected of them.
The SDM declared: 'The new post follows the BBC's new chairman, Richard Sharp, telling MPs that the BBC needed to combat accusations of "groupthink" amid concerns that there is a "liberal metropolitan view governing editorial decisions"'.
Tim Davie, the BBC's director-general, has already imposed strict rules to reduce bias among the BBC's star performers. Measures include social media guidance around the liking of posts and the use of emojis, and instructions that staff should not 'express a personal opinion on matters of public policy, politics, or controversial subjects'.
The term 'Gaelic Mafia' may, indeed, have been coined in jest by myself, and came to describe the number of Gaelic-speaking staff, predominantly from the Western Isles, who were unduly prominent in the BBC Scotland hierarchy from the late 1960s through to the 1990s – actively cultivated by a former controller of BBC Scotland, Alastair Milne, who went on to become the BBC's director-general.
Leading members of the 'Gaelic Mafia' included MacQuarrie, who was controller and then director of BBC Scotland from 2004 to 2016, and succeeded in the top job by Gaelic-speaking Donalda MacKinnon from 2016 to 2020; former head of BBC Radio Scotland, Neil Fraser; and Maggie Cunningham, who held several top posts at BBC Scotland.
Meantime, a BBC spokesman says: 'Ken MacQuarrie will leave the BBC this year after delivering new measures to reaffirm the corporation's commitment to impartiality to the director-general and director of editorial policy. He is also working on a number of other key corporate projects and ensuring a smooth transition with the new director of nations and regions'.
Scotland, sadly, has lost yet another weekly newspaper. The Nairnshire Telegraph
has ceased publication after serving its community for 180 years. However, Highland News & Media (HNM) has launched a weekly Nairnshire edition of its bi-weekly newspaper, the Inverness Courier
, publishing on Tuesdays.
editor, Iain Bain, whose family was involved with the title for more than 150 years, said his paper had faced 'problems' because of the COVID-19 pandemic since the first lockdown last March.
He explained: 'Advertising revenue was substantially cut, circulation was hit as one of our major outlets closed temporarily, and, of course, the things we normally report on like sport and local meetings vanished from the scene. The possibility of closure has haunted us on a nearly week-by-week basis since the lockdown began. As the year progressed, continued publication looked possible… but the pandemic and lockdown had another effect. It brought to an end discussions on the continuation of the Nairnshire Telegraph
by another publisher.
'Small is not so beautiful when you measure it up against the investment that is required and business conditions which are difficult at the best of times – let alone the restrictions imposed by the pandemic. These are not the best of days for print media and especially smaller newspapers. Those who produce the Nairnshire Telegraph
are in the vulnerable age group and even inoculated [against COVID-19], face the fact that we are past usual retirement age. Time alone dictates that retirement.'
Inverness-based HNM publishes 24 newspaper titles across north and north-east Scotland. Its publisher, Steve Barron, revealed: 'The thought of Nairnshire becoming a local news desert was one none of our team wanted to countenance. Our team rallied to the cause and produced the first Nairnshire edition of the Inverness Courier
within seven days – no mean feat when working from kitchen tables and spare bedrooms'.
BBC Scotland's news and current affairs programming on Sunday mornings will have a new look and sound from 7 February with the launch of The Sunday Show
. The multi-platform programme, which will feature interviews, news and analysis, will be fronted by Martin Geissler and Fiona Stalker.
The show will air from 10am until 12 noon, with Geissler presenting the first half-hour which will broadcast simultaneously on BBC One Scotland and BBC Radio Scotland. From 10.30am, Stalker will host the remainder of the show, joined by Geissler, as it continues on Radio Scotland.
Gary Smith, BBC Scotland's head of news and current affairs, explained: 'The new programme will replace the Sunday edition of Politics Scotland
and Good Morning Scotland
. They've both been excellent programmes over the past years... and many of the best elements of both programmes will feature in the new show'.
Geissler will continue to present The Nine
news programme on BBC Scotland from Monday to Wednesday and Good Morning Scotland
on Radio Scotland on Fridays. Stalker's presenting duties will still include Friday Drivetime
on Radio Scotland and Seven Days
on BBC Scotland.