The Scotsman is the leaner, meaner voice of Scotland

The Scotsman can hardly have been short of stories in recent months. The nation's biggest bank, RBS, became the poster child for a financial crisis that has also entangled leading politicians, including Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

The Scotsman newspaper front cover
The Scotsman newspaper front cover

Behind the scenes, life has not been easy for the venerable Edinburgh-based newspaper. The Scotsman, owned by Johnston Press, is merging its news­rooms with sister title Scotland on Sunday.

Editor-in-chief John McLellan makes no bones about the motivation for the decision. ‘Frankly it’s to save money and stop duplication,’ says McLellan. ‘We want to create a leaner operation.’

For PROs, the development brings a measure of opportunity. At a basic level, it offers two bites of the cherry, as long as the necessary angles are available.

Glasgow-based 3x1 PR account manager Ross Nisbet says: ‘I recently hosted a press conference where a journalist working across two titles could source angles for both the daily and Sunday ­papers, leading to two pieces of coverage instead of one.’

Double-edged sword

However, Consolidated Scotland MD Will Holt says this is a double-edged sword. Previously, a story had two chances of success. Now, ref­usal by the Sunday desk is likely to influence the daily desk.

For most PROs, The Scotsman remains the key Scottish newspaper. Its offices are a stone’s throw from the home of the Scottish Parliament. While the paper is nationally distributed, it traditionally skews towards Edinburgh, and McLellan says he writes with an Edinburgh audience in mind. ‘Our particular core market is the east of Scotland. In my mind’s eye, we’re writing for professionals and families based in Edinburgh.’

National rivals include Glasgow-based The Herald, which focuses more on the west coast, and McLellan says both papers are now resigned to the audiences they already have.

More to it than Scottish stories

But the paper should not be mistaken for a simple outlet for Scottish stories rej­ected by London-based nationals. It is distributed across the UK and has at times taken the lead on political and business stories.

‘We wouldn’t deliberately distort a story to give it a Scottish focus, only if there was one naturally attached,’ says Mc­Lellan. But Holt is clear stories do need a bit of ‘tartanising’.

London-based celebrity agency EdenCancan pitched in its client, The Three Mediums, by using the Scottish leg of the show’s tour as a hook. Head of celebrity PR and events Crissie Bushell says the Scottish angle was key to getting a foot in the door.

News page layout has been tweaked to deliver ‘a change of pace’. McLellan says: ‘Each page has a different touch. There’s also a feature in the middle of news now – it’s typically a human interest piece as a counterbalance to the heavy­weight analysis in news.’

Circulation 48,139 (ABC, 30 March to 26 April 2009)

Frequency Daily, Monday to Saturday

Publisher Johnston Press

News editor Frank O’Donnell


A minute with... John McLellan, editor, The Scotsman

John McLellanDescribe your relationship with PR professionals
I have a good relationship with the PR industry. There are those who think PR is the dark side, but I’m more open-minded. PR is a fact of life and it’s good to have relationships across media land – it can bear fruit.

What is the key to a good relationship?
Trust is key. You can have a good relationship with the PR industry without ceding control of pages. I encourage people to approach the team with PR content. Building up a relationship with all the team is the best way forward.

What is the best way to approach the news team?
I believe the most effective communication is interpersonal. Phone calls are the way I deal with PROs, but don’t waste time. Don’t fire over press releases expecting them to be covered. But at the same time don’t follow up releases with repeated calls. Having a good relationship is the name of the game.

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