Newspapers are there to make money. If they don’t do that, then they go out of business – and many have over the years. There are two ways to do that. You can either provide a balanced view, alternatively challenging and supporting your reader’s views. Educating, and informing at the same time as providing something interesting to them – attracting readers by your opinions. Papers on each side of the ideological divide do this, some more successfully than others.
Other papers pander to their reader’s views. They confirm their prejudices and attack the perceived opposition, while claiming faux neutrality. The Mail and the Sun are prime examples of this. They work on the assumption that their invective can attract more than it deters. Done well, it can be profitable (again, see the Mail and the Sun).
This weekend the Sunday Herald has come out for Yes in the Scottish Independence referendum. This has not come as a shock to anyone who has read the paper over the last 12 months or more. It came out for the SNP in both the 2007 and 2011 elections. Its coverage has been critical of the arguments for staying within the UK for some time, while failing to critique to the same level those for separation. It was the Sunday Herald, for example, that invented the “Project Fear” tag, and claimed that it was Better Together’s name for themselves.
This week has been the worst week for Alex Salmond since he became First Minister in 2007. In an interview with a magazine, he has praised President Putin of Russia for restoring the pride of the Russian people (presumably by locking up political opponents and beating up members of the LGBT community – even during the winter Olympics). He also called Scotland a “nation of drunks”, when talking about how difficult it was to promote Whisky around the world. And in a speech in Bruges to European audience, he threatened to block access to Scottish waters to European fishing fleets – and in contravention of international law – threatened to block their access to third parties via our seas.
So, instead of holding the First Minister to account for these views, the Sunday Herald has come out with a statement of the obvious. The cynic would argue that this has come out so early, merely in order to provide distraction and a much needed boost to the morale of the SNP. Presumably they feel it will boost their readership, but apart from a temporary boost this weekend, I doubt it. Is it a coincidence that its weekly sales of 24,000 are almost the same as the membership of the SNP? Its viewpoint will not attract readers who do not share its views, while those who share them and are willing to buy a Sunday paper are surely already readers of the Herald. There is nothing the Nationalist likes more than confirmation that their views are valid and correct, and the Sunday Herald has been able to provide that for some time.
It may very well do just that. But in politics, as in much else, there is the law of unintended consequences. What this does is remove that veneer of neutrality that most newspapers – even the most extreme – like to keep. So next week, and over the coming months, when the Sunday Herald produces another story – like so many of the ones it has done in the past – that is critical of the pro-UK campaign, it can and will be easily dismissed as another piece of propaganda from the Yes campaign.