Newspaper launches might be rare nowadays, but yesterday saw The National‘s first issue as it attempts to give a pro-independence voice in the print media. It’s not quite got the esteem and weight of the bigger papers that dominate print journalism yet, but as a start it’s been more than promising.
It’s now over two months since the referendum that encapsulated Scotland; but even though the result was a No vote by a margin of 55-45 percent, the Yes campaigners have not backed down in their pursuit of a fairer, more prosperous and, one day, independent Scotland. The mainstream media has been vociferously attacked for its’ perceived failure both before and after the referendum to accurately portray the real strength of feeling and breadth of campaigning that invigorated the independence campaign. Only the Sunday Herald came out before the referendum in favour of independence, while other papers either abstained or actively wrote against it. Despite getting 45% of the vote in the referendum, those with a desire to see an independent Scotland didn’t really have a newspaper that aligned with their views and what they’d like to read.
That’s where The National comes in. As a paper, it takes a distinct journalistic style, somewhere between that of stable-mate and the only other openly pro-Yes newspaper the Sunday Herald and other compact ‘broadsheets’ such as The Independent’s i paper, covering all the bases you would expect from a daily with a special emphasis on Scotland. At it’s core is an editorial agenda that supports Scottish independence and looks at stories from that viewpoint. Yesterday’s headline was on “charities’ plea for welfare powers” to be devolved to Scotland. It also featured other referendum-related stories such as a poll that found increasing youth engagement in Scottish political campaigning and Labour darling Jim Murphy saying that people think of his party as the “No” party. These are the sort of stories that don’t get too much column inches in the other papers, and to see them in a print newspaper is good. But The National is about more than just independence and Scottish politics; it has a rather interesting international section as well, with stories from countries around the world that aren’t as well reported in the media such as the shooting of a Danish tourist in Saudi Arabia and reports that 90 year-old Robert Mugabe has seized even more power for himself in Zimbabwe so that he can unilaterally name his successor. The National seems to be a good paper all-round, striking up a good balance between its’ editorial themes and more general news, and hopefully it can continue to be so day-in day-out.
The initial print-run for yesterday’s paper was 50,000 – but with reports around the country of shortages (with rather tame marketing efforts also to blame), the run is being increased to 100,000 for the rest of this week’s trial run. It is hoped that if all goes well for the paper that The National will become a feature of the newsstands across Scotland, and judging by today’s response then its’ chances are good. The Daily Record is only selling around 200,000 copies per day and broadsheets such as The National’s sister paper The Herald are lower at around 40,000 copies per day – so even if The National falls away after its’ post-launch boom then it will still manage to succeed.
However, The National has not been a success on all fronts. It has a website at thenational.scot but it’s only a holding page at the moment, with no content apart from a brief statement of intent and the ability to buy a digital subscription. Although it’s rather bold in the modern age to launch a physical newspaper, it’s even bolder still to do so without much of a web presence either. The website will be up in due time, and there’s not exactly a void of pro-independence news websites with the likes of Bella Caledonia and Wings over Scotland providing ample journalistic scrutiny of the Scottish political landscape, although to have something slightly more objective and broad will be better.
There’s also the issue of the paper’s relative brevity, with the first issue weighing it at only 32 pages. Considering the paper’s price point is 50p, The National is in competition with the likes of The Sun (40p) and the Daily Record (55p) which both publish larger issues each day, so it’s questionable whether the unique selling point of The National will be able to hold on to much of its’ readership during the less politically engaged times which will eventually be ahead.
And finally, The National doesn’t seem to be the vehicle to convert No voters to Yes voters for any potential future referendum. The paper is of good quality, but it’s editorial slant might not be accepted by those with less positive views towards independence and therefore it may well just be preaching to the converted. The independence movement needs to reach out and cross the aisle to take a step forward, rather than build more internal connections within itself.
Scotland’s media has seen a new player in town this week, and one that is showing that it will have the alternative voice that people demand. Whether it’s success, and that of the sustained independence movement, can continue will take month and years to decide though, not just a week’s worth of issues.