The National – Frequently Asked Questions

As The National celebrates its third birthday, Editor Callum Baird answers some of your questions about Scotland’s first pro-independence daily newspaper.

THE National is three years old today. Most of the pundits in Scotland’s Unionist media said we wouldn’t last till Christmas. We’ve proven them wrong – so far. But how long that continues is now up to you.

Over the past 12 months, we’ve been on the road with our National Roadshow, bringing the newspaper and our team to towns and villages across Scotland, hosting events and meeting Yes groups. We’ve spoken to thousands of our readers. And we’ve realised that many people in the independence movement share the same concerns about The National and how it’s run. So we thought we would try to address the most common questions here.

You are published by Newsquest … why should we give them our money?

The truth is that it would be incredibly difficult to launch a successful daily independent newspaper today without the backing of a large publisher. The fact that we are part of a big media company allows us to benefit from shared resources, like a printing plant, photographers, a circulation department, an advertising sales team – all of which an independent newspaper would have to pay a premium to use.

In reality, Newsquest doesn’t have a political view. It doesn’t back independence, or the Union. Otherwise, it would never have allowed the Sunday Herald to come out for Yes, or decided to launch The National. Not once, in three years of the paper, has anybody ever told us what we can and cannot publish in The National. The owners of certain other newspaper companies in the UK are not quite so hands-off.

But they could pull the plug at any minute?

Well, yes. But they won’t, as long as we’re financially viable. The only time Newsquest will ever get involved in The National is if enough people aren’t supporting the paper. So long as our readers keep buying us every morning, we’ll be there. More on that later.

Aren’t you part of the same company as The Herald?

Yes, we are – along with 20-odd local newspapers and several magazines like the Scottish Farmer. But we run a completely separate operation. We have access to the same photographers, and we use the same sports writers. The other papers have no influence over us, and we’ve got no influence over them.

But is our money going towards The Herald?

No, we’re in a completely separate financial line. Decisions are made for each title based on the performance of each newspaper, and The Herald will sink or swim based on its own performance. As will the Greenock Telegraph, the Evening Times, the East Lothian Courier, or any of the other Scottish newspapers in our company.

I can’t get hold of a copy. What’s wrong with your distribution?

We know we have a major problem here, and there are several factors which contribute to it.

First, The National – unlike most other papers – is a pan-Scottish title that doesn’t have a natural geographic base (for example, like The Herald has in Glasgow or the Scotsman in Edinburgh). We’ve got to be in all 4500-odd shops, which means we need to spread ourselves thinly to make sure there are enough copies in every outlet.

Second, the newspaper is often either hidden or tucked away. That’s partly because we’re the new kid on the block and are shunted to the back or put on the bottom shelf away from the more established papers.

Third, there is no doubt – this is the single biggest complaint we hear – that we are also being deliberately hidden behind the Unionist papers. It might be members of the public who come in and stick them under the Daily Mails or the Express. Unfortunately, without us checking every shop every day, there’s not a lot we can do about it. (And thanks to all of you out there who I know fight back to make sure we get a decent selling spot). Quite why Unionists are threatened by ONE daily newspaper when they’ve got all the rest of them, we don’t know.

How does the distribution system work?

If a shop sells out one day, it is then allocated extra copies on that day the following week. If there are a large number of copies left unsold, the shop’s allocation is cut. It is an automated system (it would be impossible to manually control the number of copies going into to 4500 shops on a daily basis).

One major problem is that the number of copies we sell is very volatile. For example, in one shop on any given week we might sell:

Monday 6 copies

Tuesday 3 copies

Wednesday 13 copies

Thursday 1 copy

Friday 8 copies

In order to make sure we definitely have enough copies available, we’d need to have at least 14 (the maximum we’re likely to sell plus one) in there each day. Over the course of those five days, we’ll have given the shop 70 copies, sold 34 and wasted 39. That doesn’t make economic sense, so we need to make tough decisions based on average sales, rather than the absolute maximum. This can lead to the newspaper occasionally being unavailable.

How are sales anyway?

We had a brilliant first six months to the year – our circulation was up on the previous 12 months, which is pretty much unheard of in newspapers. But since the General Election result – and the perception, at least, of it being a setback for independence – our sales have taken a huge hit.

The brutal truth is that we have lost close to a fifth of our print readers since a high point in June. We have a good solid number of digital subscriptions which is increasing (nearly 5000), but our readers need to be clear that the printed newspaper will ONLY exist as long as people keep buying us, and buying us regularly. There have been occasions this summer when we’ve lost an average of 300 readers from one week to the next.

So what can we do about it?

The best thing you can do is put in an order with your newsagent’s and make sure you get a copy of the paper EVERY day. We’re hoping to introduce a subscription soon for the printed edition, but until then we need our readership to make sure they pick up a National as a matter of routine. And to make sure that other people in their local Yes groups and party branches, who might not be regular readers, know how important it is to keep The National going.

But isn’t The National just preaching to the converted?

It’s true that our readership is probably mostly made up of Yes voters. But a newspaper can reach people in other ways – for example, when our stories are followed up by other news outlets. Half a million people visit our website every month. Our front pages are seen by hundreds of thousands of people online, on social media and in shops, and articles from The National appear in the timelines of around a million people on Facebook every week.

We also support a community of pro-independence writers and columnists by paying them to contribute to The National. Paul Kavanagh (aka Wee Ginger Dug) says that it’s his income from writing his columns in the paper that allows him to be able to blog full-time and tour Scotland visiting Yes groups.

Why isn’t there more advertising?

This is another major problem for us. Businesses say they are spooked by the independence thing, because they think The National is too political to be associated with. It’s fine, of course, to advertise in the Unionist newspapers. Funny that. Yet we have a readership that you can’t reach in any other newspaper. We need pro-independence businesses to help us buck the trend. Get in touch!

You don’t call out the media/BBC enough!

Of course, we will hold them to account when we need to. And there are plenty of people in the independence movement doing that already – The National is an alternative to the Unionist media, not a watchdog.

I really don’t like those front pages you do.

The front page gets us noticed and gets people talking about us. Those that are a bit more ‘out there’ and are more strident are inevitably shared more online and then sell more copies. Of course, we’ve made a few mistakes over the past 900-ish editions – you can’t get it right all of the time. But we’re learning.

I bought The National when it started but stopped.

Try it again. We’ve changed a lot since the launch. Don’t forget that there were only four weeks between the idea first being pitched and the newspaper arriving in shops!

I don’t like that Cat Boyd/Michael Fry/whoever writes for you.

We’ve got around 22 regular columnists and two cartoonists. You’re not going to like all of them. In fact, if you did like all of them, we wouldn’t be doing our job properly. And besides, it’s healthy to disagree with writers. Some of the newspaper columns we enjoy reading the most are the ones which make us really angry.

I still don’t like you …

Then we’re probably never going to win you over. But wouldn’t you agree that it’s better to have at least one pro-independence newspaper than none at all? If the Yes movement doesn’t get behind us, then we’re right back where we started – with ALL of Scotland’s mainstream media against us.

The National is put together by a small team of around 10 to 12 people every day. We all believe passionately in independence for Scotland, and although another referendum isn’t going to happen in the next few month, it is coming soon. We need you to make sure we’re around to report on the campaign. And to be in the newsstands on the day Scotland votes for independence.

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11 thoughts on “The National – Frequently Asked Questions

  1. Alasdair Macdonald

    All the best!

    I have bought the National since its inception and I enjoy the breadth of views from the various columnists you use. I think it is important to have writers like Michael Fray and Gordon Kemp-MacIntyre as well as those who range over towards the left of the political spectrum. An independent Scotland is going to be a place where there will be a plurality of views. To win independence we need to have arguments that will appeal to voters who have a range of views.

    I also like the regulars on Scottish history, Scottish literature, music and art. For many of us superannuated types these things were seldom covered in our school education, or, indeed, in university education, too. Although we were not ignorant of them because family (mine were all Gaelic speakers), friends and workmates often had alternative stories and histories and long out of print titles and songs, etc. It is important that we have a sense of the multicultural milieu in which we live.

    I am pleased that Scots and Gaelic has a place in your newspaper.

    With regard to sport, I am pleased that a pretty wide range of sports is covered, with a welcome, generous chunk on women’s sport. Indeed, I think you are coming close to normalising the reporting of women’s sport. Although I have always been a football fan and player (amateur) I welcome the proportionate nature of the coverage – it is but one item on the menu. (But, as is the blight of Scottish football reporting, the blue nose bias, is still there!)

    With the multiplicity of online and TV/radio sources these days, newspapers have to adapt to clarify the niche in which they work. I like the feel of a paper newspaper and, with my eyesight not what it was, I find it easier than on-screen text. I suspect that is a bit of inertia, because I enjoy using my Kindle Fire!

    Keep it up.

  2. Pingback: Happy birthday to The National! – Towards Indyref2…

  3. Geejay

    Yes, it’s a breath of fresh air. Although I only buy it on Saturday, because we live in a rural location and don’t drive into town except at the w/e, but I also subscribe online and visit often. (I would like to be able to upgrade my sub to the full sub but there doesn’t seem to be a way of doing so.)

    There’s a good selection of writers who always have something thoughtful to say, but I think Michael Fry should stick to issues he knows about as he is really quite ignorant about economics. It would be good to see occasional pieces from the likes of Richard Murphy, Peter Bell, Robin McAlpine and some of the other luminaries on the net.

    I don’t have tv, have stopped listening to Radio Scotland and so you are my main source of news.

    As Alasdair: Keep it up.

  4. Stoker

    “it’s healthy to disagree with writers”

    What a complete body-swerve on the Cat Boyd issue. She told blatant lies and yous give her a platform to do so.

    There is a massive difference between disagreeing with someone’s position and/or reasoning but outright lying cannot, and never will be tolerated.

    We on the Indy side are subjected to more than enough of that 24/7 from the BritNats without our so-called own side doing it.

    Even if i needed to buy a “newspaper” that fact alone would prevent me from subscribing. Never bought a rag in years and i’ve no intention of starting to do so any time soon. If they put a stop to employing liars then they would get people like me helping to promote them, even if i didn’t buy it.

    One final point, i also notice there’s no mention of The Heralds own type of “vow”, the one it made long before The National was born.

    The Herald stated, pre referendum, that if Scotland did not receive substantial extra powers out of The Smith Commission it would reconsider its current position.

    As everyone knows, we didn’t get anything like substantial new powers and The Herald did not change its position.

    Good luck for the future, but employing blatant liars and troublemakers who are only out for themselves is *not* going to ever win over a substantial number of us.

  5. Clydebuilt

    I’d like to see articles by Peter Bell, GAPonsonby, Prof. John Robertson, and The Very Rev. Stu Campbell. ( in no particular order) they have as much right and more to be included in the National’s circle of columnists.
    George Kerevan, Mhari Black, Carolyn Leckie and Lesley Riddoch are excellent.

    Always find it strange that the paper shop has at least 10 copies once a month when the Bellacaledonia Mag is included. Whereas the normal delivery is 6. So many copies of the BC mag edition get returned from this shop. . .

    Been in the shop when a woman came in from the next town saying they are like gold dust there. . .

    On another occasion the local supermarket were unable to sell their delivery of National’s as the barcode wasn’t working for this paper ” ONLY”

  6. Sheila Gibb

    I’m based in London unfortunately. I access all pro-independence media online at the local library hence I don’t make a financial contribution as you can only buy subscription. Perhaps you need to do a general “crowdfund”. I’d definitely support the following. Most wingers would too I think.
    Distribution apparently is bad. Emailed before about trying to distribute through another pro-indy organisation that is Scotland wide. Believe William Hill is pro indy. Why can’t you distribute through them? They must be in every small town high street.
    Maybe they would consider coin based dispensers on site. (Perhaps you can keep this to a silver coin donation.)
    Surely public transport hubs would oblige such as rail and bus stations if dispensing this way.
    [Not sure who provides infrastructure here but they might do a “sweetheart deal” to lure other papers this way if you proved to be leading the way.]

  7. Hugh Wallace

    I’m making this comment here in the hope that someone from the National will read it.

    I bought the first issue and regular issues in the early days. I don’t buy it anymore but i am willing to reconsider that in light of the FAQ article above. But I have some thoughts that I think you really need to consider seriously:

    The paper has wonderfully bold & colourful front covers which are almost always entirely hidden from view in the shops I visit (Asda & the local Spar mainly) behind a big sticker stuck to the outside of the display cabinet thing. The sticker does say “The National” but it is in black & white & therefore not particularly eye catching compared to every other paper in the shop. It is far too easy to overlook. Very few other publications are hidden like this (& that’s before any shenanigans take place).

    You need to drop the reference to independence on the front cover. I see little point in a paper that only speaks to committed Yes voters when it is the soft No voters we need to speak to.

    You need to distance yourself from Bella Caledonia & RISE or, at the very least, give them less prominence in the front page & in general. I don’t buy the paper because of this close link. I’m not exactly a right wing reactionary but nor am I an old fashioned socialist of the ilk that needs to die out if the support for independence is going to broaden to the middle class, right of centre voters we desperately need in order to win.

    Please take a leaf out of Prof John Roberson’s website (thoughtcontrol Scotland) & publish some good news stories about the achievements being made in Scotland, especially the political ones. You don’t need to become uncritical of the SNP but if you genuinely do support an independent Scotland you do need to be their cheerleaders.

    You need to strongly consider offering a free paper, like the Metro, for free distribution throughout Scotland. We need to litter public transport with them, we need free copies going through every letterbox. Stop concentrating on the digital medium, the cybernats have got that covered. The main benefit of The National is in print format for those who do not read the internet. I know you are a business that needs to make business decisions but are you simply a business trying to make a profit from Yes voters or are you willing to take risks to push forward an agenda & help change a country?

    Sincerely,

    A potential subscriber…

    1. Alan Johnson

      On your “free distribution” point, Hugh, a good idea in principle, but surely you must appreciate that this would be a non-starter unless supported by extensive advertising, as is the case with all free newspapers such as METRO. And Callum has already pointed out how very difficult it would be to achieve this, unless many bigger “pro-Indy” companies could be persuaded to come on board.

      1. Hugh Wallace

        Completely. Someone needs to get persuading then.

        Taking this beyond the National, there has been a complete lack of large-scale creative thinking among the Yes movement when it comes to media. Or, if there has been thinking there has been zero successful action. We need TV, we need radio and we need print to reach the masses who do not pay attention to internet news & social media. Alex Salmond’s tv show is the tip of the iceberg of what is needed and my question is, why wasn’t this being done years ago? The possible buyout of the Scotsman is the sort of thing required but probably too little too late.

        I could go on but today (after the weekend of Indy news I’ve read) I feel like I am shouting in an empty room for all the good that does.

  8. David McCann

    I have taken the National since its inception and like it very much, especially its political stance, but also its wider content and sport.
    Like others above I think it is a mistake to print your political stance on the front page. No other paper openly shows its political allegiance despite the fact that they support unionist parties, so why should you? It can only restrict your potential readership.

    Love your front page splashes, but to compete with the rest of the tabloids (and I hate to admit it!) but to appeal the masses, you have to include at least a couple of major sports teasers on the front page as well as a one for star gossip/scandal or suchlike as attention grabbers.
    Increasing sales is what it’s all about, and you have to appeal to all tastes, and fitba etc. does just that!
    No need to widen your sport coverage as you already do an excellent job, just punt it front page.
    Maybe get an exclusive from Andy Murray to start you off!

    As someone who was involved in newspapers all my life, I know how difficult it is to sustain newspaper circulation nowadays, but I seem to remember that collecting coupons from several editions increased circulation, along with baby competitions etc., with attractive prizes, attracts a wider readership.

    I wish you luck in your endeavours.

  9. William Ross

    Calum

    If you are reading this, I would first of all say “well done”. The National is a good read even if I frequently disagree with its generally left wing, ultra- green, pro-EU stance. The National is one of the first websites I click on each morning ( except Sunday)

    What is disappointing is that notwithstanding the variety of your 22 columnists there is one ironclad editorial rule: none of them can question the Yes movement`s Europhilia. Very few Leave -oriented letters are now allowed. I can remember only one column, in the joint Bella production, that made even a Lexit argument. ( David Jamieson of Commonspace) Polls show that SNP voters were more likely to vote Leave than the supporters of any other party even the Tories.

    Support the lost cause of Remain all you want but try to embrace a little balance and try to reach out to half a million pro-Leave Yessers. Your tack is to deny that they exist.

    William

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