Aberdeen's morning daily, The Press and Journal
(P&J), is maintaining its position as the UK's top-selling regional newspaper with its DC Thomson Media stablemate, the Dundee-based morning daily, The Courier
, in third place.
Meantime, the latest Audit Bureau of Circulations (ABC) figures, for January to June 2021, reveal the effect that COVID-19 has had on regional dailies, with every title across the country recording double-digit decreases in sales. The effects of the pandemic on print have now become clearer with year-on-year circulation decreases as great as 37.5% at Wolverhampton's Express & Star
, which as recently as 2017, was the top-selling UK regional daily. Its sale of 31,477 copies, in the period from January to June 2020, has plummeted to 19,683 a year on.
P&J, although down by 17.3% from a circulation of 38,252 to 31,629, retains its top position – significantly ahead of The Irish News
which has dropped by 11.4% to 28,014. The Courier
, in third place, is down 12.9% to 25,235 copies. The Manchester Evening News
is in fourth place – down 25.3% to 22,107, and the Liverpool Echo
is fifth with a circulation of 22,069.
The available ABC figures for other Scottish titles classified as regional newspapers are: Evening Express
, Aberdeen – 13,507 (-16.1%); Evening Telegraph
, Dundee – 8,160 (-15.4%); and Paisley Daily Express
(-12.7%). The Scotsman
sale for the period January to June 2021 was 10,021 copies but no percentage statistics have been issued. Some other Scottish regional titles, including The Herald
and the Glasgow Evening Times,
do not issue their circulation figures via ABC.
Several Scottish titles are classified as national newspapers and three of them do issue circulation figures through ABC. The Daily Record
was down 8% in June – a year-on-year drop to 83,074; the Sunday Mail
fell by 14% to 81,651; and the Sunday Post
dropped 16% to 62,790.
A welcome initiative has been launched by Alison Phillips, the highly regarded editor of the Daily Mirror
. Alison is not totally convinced by the long-held mantra in newsrooms that bad news sells and crime trumps charity. So she has launched the 'Mirror More Hopeful' manifesto – making a 'commitment to report more hopeful news' at the title, both in print and online.
In an interview with Freddy Mayhew, UK and commissioning editor of media industry website Press Gazette
, Phillips explains: 'It's not just about writing happy-clappy stories – although I do think it's important that we tell stories of hopefulness and positivity as much as more negative stories. It is also about within even the most difficult stories… looking beneath the surface at, okay, where could there be some seeds of positivity? So on a topic like COVID-19 or racism in football, it's looking at what are the potential solutions that could… make this a better situation. That might be looking at how something's done abroad or in certain communities. A lot of it is about giving people the belief things can be better – and giving them the tools with which they can help make things better'.
Alison, who also oversees the Sunday Mirror
and Sunday People
, points out: 'Obviously, we're still going to do major crises and disasters and political scandals and all of that: of course we're going to do that, but we have to ensure that we're doing other stuff as well'.
She contends that journalists are 'trained to seek out the darkness' and suggests that 'bad news is easier to do' than good news, but this puts professional newsgatherers at odds with people in the 'real world' who are turning away from the 'relentlessness of bad news'. She adds insightfully: 'You could never have a newspaper that's just full of bad news because, crikey, you'd just depress the hell out everybody and they'd never come back the next day'.
Most interesting news from the Shetland Islands on the latest career development involving my old friend and mucker – journalist, author, broadcaster and musician – Tom Morton, who had recently diversified into conducting funerals. And he has now also been officially approved to conduct marriage ceremonies.
Carlisle-born Morton, 65, who was brought up in Glasgow, moved to Shetland in 1987 – three years after his GP wife, Susan, moved north. Operating from a Lerwick-based studio, he worked extensively for BBC Radio Scotland from 2001 to 2015, including presenting his own thrice-weekly weekend show which was a Scottish take on rock and pop, from obscure blues to mainstream pop, to soul and topical independent releases. He also regularly contributed to all the BBC's other radio outlets.
Tom's CV also records four years as The Scotsman's
staff reporter in the Highlands; freelancing from Shetland, and from Glasgow for STV – including the programme, Wheelnuts
, and various network commissions; spells on The Shetland Times
as news editor; and stints as a columnist for the Scottish Daily Express
, New Statesman
, and Scotland on Sunday
. And he edited Shetland Life
magazine from 2011 to 2015.
In a long overdue fraternal catch-up, Tom brought me up-to-date on his intriguing career diversification. He relates: 'I have conducted funerals in Shetland and on the Scottish mainland for six years now, mostly for families who wanted to say a secular farewell to their loved one, but including as much or as little religious content as they wish. Before COVID-19, the singing of maritime hymns at an island community funeral was commonplace – even in the most stringently atheistic environment.
'Hard and fast Humanism, with a capital H, has always been quite militantly antagonistic about allowing its celebrants to dally with God or gods at funerals, so I have never operated as part of any official Humanist organisation, until now. Celebrate People, which was set up by Gerrie and Susan Douglas-Scott, is a humanist (small h) and spiritual care organisation and community, which is committed to "unconditional compassion, religious harmony and quality". They were happy to have me, and I was delighted to align myself with them. Hymns are permitted.'
has approval from the Registrar General to offer legal marriage ceremonies (anyone can conduct a funeral), and Tom tells me: 'After training, I was accepted as someone who can officially marry folk. I am absolutely thrilled that I am able to do this. At both funerals and weddings, aside from any official function [making sure there is permanent black ink in your fountain pen for marriages: ballpoints and fibre tips are not allowed as the schedule signatures fade with time], being a celebrant is about storytelling.
'It is journalism with no excuses, no fallbacks, and no sub-editors or lawyers to catch your howlers. Everything has to be correct and you get one chance: say these names properly and get those relationships right. Do not mention that prison sentence for smuggling live tarantulas through Prestwick Airport!
'That's why I check, check and triple-check with families. These days, I break that golden journalistic rule and read my copy back to every interviewee.'
Among seven books Morton has written, his latest is Tolls for Thee: Celebrating and reclaiming the end of Life
, which is published by Watkins. The blurb on the book cover is certainly enticing. It reads: 'After a close encounter with death, Tom Morton realised he needed a change of pace and perspective. He decided to become the only independent funeral celebrant on the remote Shetland Islands, an unusual new profession that would lead him on an extraordinary journey into the world of the dead.
'In a vivid narrative that reveals the fascinating realm of the unspoken – from extraordinary undertakers and death cafes, to pilgrimages and taboos – Tom quickly learns that death and speaking for the dead requires you to think on your feet and often take a magpie approach to faith and philosophy. From Humanism to hymns, Theravada Buddhism to Star Wars
theology, he discovers the importance of ritual, humour, and the empowering act of trying to find words for something beyond language itself. This is an accessible and thought-provoking guide to celebrating mortality.'
Entries for the prestigious British Journalism Awards are still open! If you are a publisher or journalist producing content for a UK audience, the organiser – Press Gazette
– wants to hear from you.
Press Gazette editor, Dominic Ponsford, tells me: 'In its 10th year, the British Journalism Awards continues to recognise great journalism which is revelatory and impactful. Our panel of judges are looking for work that displays journalistic skill, rigour and serves the public interest'.
Entries are open until 1 October 2021, with the shortlist announced on 4 November and an awards ceremony scheduled for 8 December at the Hilton London Bankside. The awards, which last year attracted a record 900 entries, is open to all publishers and journalists whatever the medium: print, broadcast and online. To qualify for inclusion, work must have been published between 1 September 2020 and 31 August 2021.
For full information on categories and criteria, visit the Press Gazette website: www.pressgazette.co.uk
. The website's reach extends to 300,000 online readers per month and 71,000 Twitter followers, and sponsorship is still being sought.