Sunday Herald aims to shape the new Scotland

The Sunday Herald made a bold entrance into the Scottish market on February 7 with an intelligent, innovative launch issue, radically different to the established and increasingly successful Scotland on Sunday and The Sunday Times. Editor Andrew Jaspan, who has a wealth of experience of newspaper publishing in Scotland, is hoping to capture the zeitgeist and ride the crest of the devolution wave.

The new paper has a lively irreverent tone, balanced by strong journalism tackling serious issues. This makes it a challenging read and it is certainly single-mindedly targeting the upmarket under-45s. The Sunday Herald’s openness, reinforced by e-mail addresses underneath every story and a nicely designed Website, is also a measure of its difference from existing titles.

Even though the Sunday Herald has chosen to launch as Scotland on Sunday’s circulation rides high, the latter’s content has become more mid-market, perhaps creating a gap at the top end of the market for the Sunday Herald to exploit.

The coming of devolution will undoubtedly benefit Scottish media at the expense of the England-based nationals. The Scots are quick to spot tokenism, and a modified masthead and a few changed pages simply won’t be enough once Scotland is being run by its own parliament. The focus will shift from London to Edinburgh.

Scotland has never had its own truly national quality daily newspaper; the four morning papers have always been strongly biased towards their heartlands, which can be divided into West Coast (Herald), East Coast (Scotsman), North (Press and Journal) and Tayside (Courier and Advertiser). The new parliament should offer opportunities for truly pan-Scottish coverage.

Scotland on Sunday has achieved an East/West balance which has given Scotsman Publications a foothold in its traditional heartland. Indeed, Scotland On Sunday’s success in accessing West Coast advertising revenue must have acted as a catalyst to the launch of the Sunday Herald.

This defensive strategy is evident in the launch issue; the newspaper has nailed its Glasgow colours to the mast, both with its name and by its decision to make the lead story in the sports section about Celtic Football Club rather than one about Scotland’s rugby victory.

The national tabloids have been attempting for some time to make inroads into the Scottish market with sustained price-cutting, and have had limited success. However, the Scots remain fiercely loyal to their own: the Daily Record has the highest national readership penetration of any newspaper in the world.

Everyone wants their piece of Scotland and while the specialised Sunday Business may find some success in Edinburgh, it will be those newspapers which can truly deliver what Scottish readers want which will succeed.

The Sunday Herald leader admits to “a somewhat old-fashioned view of newspapers that they are in the business of nation-making and nation-shaping!” This may sound grandiose, but essentially what is required is a forum that can debate the real issues affecting Scotland. If the Scottish press gets it right, it will reap the rewards.

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