Sunday Herald comes of age

It was snowing 18 years ago.  I’d walked down Ashvale Lane in Aberdeen to the Spar at the bottom of the street, then back up again.  At that time of the morning, in a bitterly cold, wintery Sunday morning, there was pretty much nobody else about.

Much of the next hour or so was spent on the phone to my old colleague and podcasting partner Craig McGill, dissecting pretty much page by page the first edition of the Sunday Herald, and whether it was worth the trudge through the snow.

For the record, although my memory may be as fluffy as the snowflakes that were falling, we both agreed that it was.

The Sunday Herald of 1999 was an interesting beast.  It felt a million miles from the stuffy Scotland on Sunday and the brash tabloids, sitting in a hinterland of fresh ideas and fresh looks.  Even the typeface and the use of colour stood out.

It had an intriguing mix of contributors, too.  One of my favourite Scots authors, Gordon Legge – behind the peerless  In Between Talking About The Football – was now writing about the football.  The likes of Pat Kane and Iain Macwhirter could be seen among its pages,  designed and laid-out to within an inch of their lives.

Andrew Jaspan took a good chunk of the talent that had worked under him at the Scottish edition of the Big Issue, giving the paper a younger, fresher feel than pretty much anything on the newsstands at the time.

It also had a significant digital presence – notable at a time when, the Scotsman aside, most Scottish news outlets could barely work out how to put up a story online, let alone AV clips.  As current editor Neil Mackay noted in the paper’s anniversary edition at the weekend, “When we launched we were the only paper in the UK to run email addresses under reporters’ bylines.”

I’ve chuntered on a lot before elsewhere about my fascination with the Sunday Scot, the last big money, high profile Sunday launch in Scotland before the Sunday Herald.  That crashed and burned after just three months.  Yet 18 years on the Sunday Herald has somehow defied the odds.

The recent ABCs show the paper continuing to hang on, and despite constantly being tipped to be the first big Scottish name to go digital only, outsells the Scotland on Sunday – the paper it could have been subsumed by had the Barclays been given the nod to acquire the Herald titles 15 years ago.

Since then, of course, it has survived the financial woes of the Scottish Media Group, and the brutal cuts imposed on it and the other Herald titles by current owners Newsquest.  It has shrunk from sprawling broadsheet to the controversial ‘news magazine’ format it became five years ago.  And it struck out as a voice for the Yes campaign during the 2014 referendum.

As a title it’s done a lot of growing up over the last 18 years.  With age comes maturity, and some of that youthful, vibrant approach to news in Scotland has been replaced with an older, more reflective style.  As Mackay admitted in a fascinating interview with The Glasgowist, “We’re not the paper of record”.

But not many are these days, and while the circulation and the staff numbers may have dropped significantly since that snowy day in 1999, and whether you agree with it or not as a title, it’s encouraging that the Sunday Herald’s voice has continued to be heard.  It’s not often you get to mark a paper coming of age in the current climate.