Battle of the tabloids
Aggressive and streetwise or mince and doughballs? In the first of three articles about changes in the Scottish media, Tom Lappin anticipates the launch of a new Sunday newspaper.
In a recent interview with a Scottish media magazine. Jamie Sampson. circulation director of the Sunday Scot. confessed to a suspicion that he was being followed and that someone was keeping a careful track of his movements. It might sound like Sampson has been reading too many spy thrillers. but given his new paper‘s anticipated reception from the rest of Scotland‘s tabloid Sundays when it launches on 10 March. perhaps he‘s remembering the old adage. ‘Just because you‘re paranoid. it doesn‘t mean they‘re not all out to get you.‘
Newspaper industry rumours can be as unreliable as some of their news stories. but certainly the three main Sunday tabloids in Scotland. the Sunday Mail. the Sunday Post and the News Of The World are not complacent about the threat of the Scot. The Sunday Mail has already i unleashed a heavy promotional campaign. aimed at advertisers and emphasising its 880.000 sales and its 2.25 million readership (people share papers it seems). On the editorial side. there are rumours that new editor Jim Cassidy plans an expansion to a 64-page. two-part paper.
D.C. Thomson‘s Sunday Post still sells a staggering 1.25 million. including a substantial over-the-border sale. It is contemplating a bold step into the 20th century with new colour presses, giving it the capacity to print 96-page papers. with 32 pages in colour. Meanwhile. the world‘s biggest-selling tabloid. the News Of The World is increasing its Scottish coverage by four pages. and cutting its advertising rates to coincide with the launch ofthe Scot.
Entering this highly competitive market in the midst of recession. when advertising revenue is in decline. might seem suicidal. Funnin enough. Jack Irvine. managing director of the Sunday Scoi‘s publishers Murray Media and former editor of the Scottish Sun.
Jack Irvine. Managing Director at
doesn‘t seem the kamikaze type. Confidence is a vital requisite for launching a new paper. but his doesn‘t seem forced. So confident is he ofthe paper‘s success. in fact. that he‘s already talking about a Daily Seoi. with a possible launch next March. "I'here‘s definitely a place for us in the market.‘ he asserts. ‘A major body of market research. carried out for ourselves and the Herald. has shown an enormous dissatisfaction in the younger readership. We‘ve identified what we call the “promiscuous young adults“ as a particularly promising target. Promiscuous in the sense that they can‘t settle down with one paper at the moment and are looking for something new.‘
There‘s nothing particularly novel about this. The publishers ofsuch ill-fated ventures as News On Sunday. Eddie Shah‘s Today. and the Sunday Correspondent have all promised to cater for the young audience. without much success. The Sunday Seoi‘s attitude is to let it happen naturally. ‘We have undoubtedly the youngest staffof any newspaper.‘ says Irvine. ‘and the interests and enthusiasms of that
the new Sunday Scot
staff are obviously going to be reﬂected in the stories they write. 2 With papers like the Sunday Mail or the Sunday Post. there is definitely a middle-aged steadiness there. We ? have a much more Streetwise 3 attitude. a harder edge. and a much i more aggressive streak. While they‘re sitting in the pub at four in l
the afternoon we‘ll be out there getting stories.‘ More than a few of the reservations
expressed about the new paper area direct result of Irvine‘s and editor Steve Sampson‘s (Jamie‘s younger brother) stint on the Scottish Sun where they gained some notoriety for stories like the expose on the sex life of top Tory. Ross Harper. It was a style that didn‘t appeal to the Scottish readership. and the Sun failed to make any real inroads into the Daily Reeord‘s market donunauon.
Irvine has absorbed the lesson. ‘No. we‘re not looking to be salacious. It would be futile to bring the excesses of the News Of The World or the Sunday People to a Scottish market that doesn‘t go for those kinds ofstories.‘ he says. before adding almost wistfully. ‘although young people don‘t mind them so much. and people forget that 45—55-year-olds were young in the 60s. and aren‘t averse to punchy hard-hitting stories.‘ One such would seem to be the eminently forgiving Ross Harper. who will be writing a column for the new paper.
The Sunday Seot‘s criticism of the existing papers seems to overlook the fact that this appears to be what the public want. Both the Sunday Mail and its sister paper the Daily Record have increased their readerships recently. while rival circulations are falling. Both papers. and the Sunday Post. have a rapport with and an understanding of their readers accrued over a lengthy period. That might amount to what Irvine calls the Sunday Mail ‘Save The Bridic‘ attitude. but it‘s a blend of homeliness and informality that is working.
By contrast the Sunday Seoi‘s brashness is almost vulgar. ‘The other papers don‘t have the balls to go out and get the really big stories.‘ says Irvine. ‘the stories like the Mo Johnston transfer that get the readers jumping out oftheir seats. But those stories will come to us. Steve Sampson is the best story-getter in Britain. and ifa reporter‘s good enough for Rupert Murdoch. he‘s good enough for anybodyf
Irvine talks a good paper. but it‘s going to take more than hype to make a success of the Sunday Scot. Initial audience target figures of 250.000 are modest. and with the use of Outram‘s presses. printing overheads have been reduced but. with advertising agencies already expressing some scepticism. it's going to take quite a bit of David Murray‘s money to establish a niche in the market for the paper.
Ironically. it might be the Scot‘s very professionalism that tells against it. Talking about his staff Irvine says: ‘I adopt the Graeme Souness policy. I only get the best.‘ Followers of Scottish football will know that Souness‘s success was a partial result of his buying Englishmen. a trait that has made him unpopular with the rest of Scottish football. Irvine and Sampson‘s methods. fresh from the white-hot atmosphere ofthe English tabloids could be found equally unwelcome in the couthy. ‘mince-and-doughballs‘ world of the Scottish Sundays.
The Sunday Seo! is launched on 10 March.
The List 8— 21 March 199171