‘What on earth possessed us to let BBC cameras in?’

Newsquest’s Herald & Times group editor Donald Martin explains why he gave full access to documentary makers for six months as they launched their new titles in Scotland…

Are you mad?” “That was brave!”

“It’s great publicity.” “Worked brilliantly for us.”

“Your readers will love the insight.”

When viewers, media commentators, family and friends tune in tonight, I would be surprised if their reactions don’t match those already offered pre-screening.

After all, it is not every day you open up your newsroom to a rival media organisation and put your trust in them. And trust, in this world of fake news, is at the heart of The Herald brand and one of the main reasons we chose to do this.

You trust us to deliver the news impartially, with honesty and integrity. The documentary is a quality production, like all our titles, and provides unique analysis, insight and opinion – the cornerstones of The Herald’s daily coverage.

So, just as we strive to deliver in print and online on a daily basis, the TV show strips bare the gloss and spin and reveals the realities of the challenges we face.

Underpinning all this is our passionate, professional and dedicated team doing a superb job, in often difficult circumstances, to deliver quality coverage across news, politics, business, sport and the arts.

Welcome to The Herald, warts and all.

The media world was abuzz with chat about the imminent launch of two new Sunday titles, The Herald on Sunday and Sunday National, when Maurice Smith of TVI Vision got in touch seeking to produce a documentary about the newspaper industry and The Herald in particular. The timing could not have been better.

We were days away from implementing a strategic decision to extend both The Herald and sister title The National across seven days. For The Herald brand there had been confusion in the market place, including online, over an apolitical editorial stance Monday to Saturday and a left wing, independence supporting Sunday Herald.

The National championed an independent Scotland and catered for a market committed to that cause, but did not have a Sunday offering. Readers turned instead to The Sunday Herald but many Monday to Saturday Herald readers were alienated by The Sunday Herald’s political stance. That impacted on sales and our online audiences.

The solution was to rebrand The Sunday Herald and launch a Sunday National to cater for an independence-supporting audience seven days, and to produce a Herald on Sunday fully aligned with the political stance and values of Monday to Saturday’s Herald.

A unique marketing opportunity beckoned.

I had a positive response to allowing the cameras in when, as Editor of The Sunday Post, we celebrated its centenary, and the experience of others in the spotlight, such as Glasgow Central Station and Edinburgh Airport, shows that providing the public with a unique insight helps provide a welcome understanding of our roles, responsibilities and challenges.

However, it was important for our brands, The Herald, Evening Times and The National, to ensure that the production company had a track record of excellent work.

Documentary producer/director Sarah Howitt made the first series of “Scotland’s Superhospital” — following the move to the new hospital; and more recently The Force: The Story of Scotland’s police, which was nominated for a Scottish Bafta for Best Factual Series and for a Royal Television Society award for the same.

Maurice and Sarah first worked together in 2014 on a documentary entitled The Bridge: Fifty Years Across The Forth, which won the Bafta Scotland best single documentary in 2015. They also collaborated on The Town That Thread Built and Six Weeks To Save The World.

Importantly, it was commissioned for the BBC, where context and impartiality are regarded as critical. Again, in the same way we ask our public to trust our journalists to be fair and balanced, there is an expectation of the same from the BBC.

So in rolled the cameras… but for much longer than expected. More of that later.

Sadly, despite our remarkable 237-year history, The Herald is not immune from the same criticism levelled at all media — that we produce fake news, suppress and distort the truth. We are the world’s longest- running national newspaper, but that counts for little amongst the online trolls who only want an echo chamber for their views.

Our critics often use it as a stick to beat us with. What better opportunity to show our integrity, balance, fairness and lack of bias.

In addition, like most journalists, nothing irritates me more than seeing our profession and industry portrayed in dramas, soap and films as insensitive, intrusive and reckless with the truth.

I am sure when you sit down to enjoy the shows you will see professional, dedicated and caring staff interested only in serving their audiences quality journalism.

The Herald is staunchly apolitical. Importantly, audiences will see how wrong accusations of any political bias are. We represent all views and have brilliant columnists – given complete freedom to express their opinions.

The news industry is challenged by growing digital consumption and declining print readership. We reach record overall audiences and are getting ever closer to the point where digital revenues and growing commercial partnerships exceed the more traditional revenue platforms in print. As we make that seismic transition, we need to manage our costs to allow us to continue to invest in the multi-media offering that will protect our long-term future.

Quality journalism, be it in print or online, is expensive. Balancing that equation means streamlining processes, increasing efficiencies, structural changes and difficult conversations. The cameras were there to capture it all – painful though it was.

Almost every industry has its own challenges and as journalists we report without fear or favour. For viewers to have trust in us and our brand to have credibility it was important to be open and honest. Our readers will have a better insight and understanding of the complexities and difficulties of delivering quality content across many platforms and see that our commitment remains as strong as ever.

The documentary features our comprehensive coverage of Brexit, free of any partisan agenda, and delivered for a Scottish audience. It shows our specialist teams at Holyrood and Westminster providing insight and analysis amid the chaos and confusion.

It was to be a three-month period where we had to mind our language as the cameras covered the build-up to the UK’s exit from the EU. Delay after delay, deals, no deals and daily disarray pushed the timescale back to March 31. A full six months and not a stylist, make-up artist or personal trainer in sight!

The media industry is full of characters and larger than life personalities. They are passionate, pedantic, argumentative and opinionated. But everyone is proud to work for The Herald/The Herald on Sunday and our sister titles, the Evening Times and The National/Sunday National.

They come to life through the lenses that followed them for what seemed an eternity and light up the screen in the same way they do our pages on a daily basis. I’m proud of every one of them and hope you will welcome the opportunity tonight to see the people who make The Herald a compelling read in print and online.

The Papers is on BBC1 Scotland, at 9pm tonight (September 18th).



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