It Was The Sun Wot Won It – Editor Explains How Tabloid Conquered Scotland
Friday, May 26th, 2017
Fascinating Q&A with the editor of the nation’s best-selling paper, seven days a week
THERE ARE some jobs which are always a bit special. The kind of positions that have a real wow factor or an air of mystique.
Such roles tend to be few and far between, fiercely sought after and the people in those jobs often need the kind of charisma, sense of purpose and influence most of us can only gawp at.
A job that falls squarely into the special camp is ‘national newspaper editor’. Even in this digital era, the giants of print carry impressive clout in setting the agenda of our daily lives.
Certainly, our clients are always fascinated to find out what kind of people are in charge of our most influential daily news sources – and how they think.
In Scotland, newspapers don’t come any bigger than the Scottish Sun which has just been officially anointed as the nation’s highest-selling newspaper seven days a week. It was already the biggest from Monday to Saturday. But official, audited circulations figures show the Scottish Sun on Sunday has now overtaken its closest competitor.
You might have wondered what kind of person it takes to drive such success and to be at the helm of paper as colourful, influential and demanding as the super, soaraway Sun.
So we decided to ask the man himself. Please let us introduce Alan Muir, the editor of the Scottish Sun:
Q: The Scottish Sun was recently unveiled as the best selling newspaper in Scotland over the seven day week, how does this make you and the team at the paper feel?
A: We were all really delighted. It’s a great milestone for the team and is testimony to their incredible hard work, passion and drive. But to be honest, we don’t focus too much on that (although it’s a nice accolade). We have always just gotten our heads down every day to turn out the best possible paper that we can. We’re a really small team and enjoy each others’ company, talk about the daily agenda and then pull together to produce something we can be proud of. Our focus is always on the readers, who we have a great relationship with – and always have done. They keep us right!
Q. What would you say a Scottish Sun reader looks for in their paper each day?
A: Our readers look for a magic mix. They want to be informed, first and foremost. Not lectured, not told what to do, not preached at. Informed.
And we’re in a really privileged position to be able to get access to places and people that the public can’t.
It’s our duty to represent them and ask the kind of questions that they might be desperate to know the answers to. But we also entertain. Our readers look to us to provide a bit of light relief in the day. That special Scottish Sun humour. It can be a dreich world sometimes, so it’s good to look for the light among the shade. I’ve always thought we treat the readers as friends. You wouldn’t talk down to a pal, or act all hoity toity – or keep them out of the loop.
Again, we’re here to represent them and walk alongside them. Sometimes step in on their behalf to fight an injustice. We just have to hope we’re doing a good enough job to make them stick with us. But, such is the relationship we have with them, someone will always let us know if we’ve got something wrong, or if we’ve gone too far – or, equally, praise us if they think we’re spot on with an issue. And we welcome that interaction.
Q: In a time when many would argue that newspapers are no longer relevant – do you see this as a sign that there is still a place for the traditional print newspaper?
A: There are a lot of doom-mongers out there. But papers are still very much alive and kicking. The Scottish Sun still shifts almost 1.5 million papers a week, which is incredible when you think about it. And that doesn’t even take into account the many more who will read us every day. Of course, you can never take anything for granted in these huge times of change. But I really feel that sticking to the formula which has attracted your readership in the first place is really important. That’s news, sport, politics, showbiz, challenging columnists and great value offers.
Q: Of course, the newspaper is doing quite well in the traditional sense, however other media rivals have looked to build readership through their websites – do you see this as a challenge?
A: We’re all trying to navigate the new digital world. Old dinosaurs like me have to adapt. In fact, what we have now is a whole new army of readers. Readers who might not even buy the paper, but still want a piece of the Scottish Sun brand. That’s got to be a good thing…more people than ever before choosing us. We just have to be careful about the need for speed. That means being consistent in how we report online. We must always strive to apply the same standards that we have for the paper: accuracy, grammar, punctuation and ensuring our personality shines through in the writing and treatments of stories. Oh! And making sure the duty lawyers don’t collapse with stress.
Q: How would you say the media environment has changed? Do all stories need a visual to get success in the hard copy paper and on the website? Do you think there is a over-reliance on web-manufactured stories, i.e. peoples’ comments on Twitter, weird animals, people doing daft things etc?
A: Nothing has really changed in that regard. I remember a number of times racing back to the office with a story all stood up, great interview in the bag, facts all cross-checked, battering it out hoping for the front page – only for the news editor to burst my bubble because the interviewee wouldn’t have his picture taken or I hadn’t managed to secure any collects! You have always needed to get an image to secure the best show for a story. I think there’s a place for all of the categories you mention above. Give me a weird animal or a dafty any day. Folk love them!
My worry is that we might be about to inherit a new generation of journalists who are essentially desk warriors. We need to make sure that new recruits know how to get out on the streets and talk to people, cultivate contacts and be able to cover every angle on a story. I know this’ll sound like your grandpa talking, but the old ways are still the best I think. Facebook, Twitter and the like can help with stories in a way we’d never have dreamed of even 10 years ago. But the best source of stories still are people. Get out there for a chinwag!
Q: Buzzfeed, Ladbible and other web/social operations are growing in size every day – do you ever see these online sites over-taking traditional media publications as a source of news?
A: I hope not. Not because I don’t like them. I do – and I’m thoroughly entertained and informed by them every day. But they have a particular style and angle. There is room for us all. When we go out to talk to students on media course, one of the things we try to drive home is to read as much as possible. Definitely the papers (I would say that!) – both broadsheet and tabloid. And go for as many websites as you want. Make it your mission to enter this incredibly diverse library every day.
Q: If a business was looking to build a relationship with the media – what would you suggest as the best way of going about that?
A: Learn what you can about them first of all. We’re all so different. Different personalities, different politics, different attitudes. And if you think you’re a match, or that a relationship could be formed based on what you’ve found out…
Kind of like when you start dating someone. Hold on! Maybe I could develop an app!
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We hope you found this interview with Alan as insightful and enlightening as we did. Understanding what makes the media tick is vital for any business or organisation which hopes to enjoy the most positive public profile.
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