31 October 2013

Dwindling Revenues > Trolling for Hits

by Shane Nicholson | Executive Editor

We've seen the onslaught of "Dave King isn't going to get on the Rangers board because of x, y and z" pieces from all corners over the past 10 days or. Our own Chris Graham took a bite out of some of that nonsense just last night.

More than having to fill column inches there is a science behind using 'RANGERS' in every single possible headline that you can. Of course it moves print editions – what else do people want to read about on the train besides us?

But the problems facing the newspapers of yesterday still struggling to operate in a digital dominated landscape bleed through the daily budgets of editors across the world. Doing it for a living, I'm no stranger to the importance placed on fresh web content for papers on an almost hourly basis.

With that in mind, news desks continually look to churn out pieces on the web that will drive hits, trolling the lowest common denominators of their market. One need look no further than Simon Bain's piece on The Herald's website from Tuesday under the banner hed "HMRC warns Rangers ahead of appeal over £36m tax case".

This story (don't click on it unless you want to support these types) of course had nothing to do with Rangers, outwith the tenuous links Mr Bain tried to draw via unnamed sources. In fact, it was (or at least should have been) solely about the Aberdeen Asset Management firm's use of illegal bonus payments to executives. One might worry that the Sporting Integrity crowd would be concerned with a company that formerly held 24 percent of Aberdeen FC using illegal tax mechanisms to improve its cash position and the bank balances of its executives.

(As an aside, using unnamed "tax experts" to draw links to the Rangers HMRC case is a tired and fruitless exercise, but maybe Mr Bain has not done a search for the ex Rangers Tax Case blog in a while.)

In a similar part of the world, The Scotsman has been trying to meet the modern challenges of the classical news industry head on, and given that they've slashed their debt load by fully £55m it would appear on first take they've done a job. On top of that, their cost cutting structure is something seen industry wide these days.

Sadly, so is their debt load perched well into the hundreds of millions of pounds range – £306m to be exact according to our old friend Dougie Fraser at Pacific Quay. 

Their print editions continue to struggle, the daily paper's circulation down 17 percent the first half of 2013 and the Scotland on Sunday down 20 percent in the same time. So it's of little wonder that the likes of Tom English continue to peddle (at best) half truths about Dave King to generate as much traffic on their site as possible.

As Fraser says in his piece, (again, don't click) "cost-cutting isn't much of a long-term strategy. Ashley Highfield, at Johnston Press (ed. note: publishers of The Scotsman), is one of those media corporate chiefs trying to find a new business model that gets sufficient revenue out of digital advertising sales."

A more cynical person–or one who works in the trade–might suggest that Tom's persistent misframing of Mr King's high crimes and misdemeanors would be a desperate ploy to drive people to these all important digital advertising revenue streams. But then that person would be trolled and mocked on Twitter as a result of pointing out the blatant fallacies in Tom's continued bleating.

We've said it before here on the CRO: Rangers sell newspapers, or in Tom English's case (and a dozen others like him) our club sells job security via web traffic. Even if you have to tell complete lies and maybe print a correction or clarification at the bottom of page 47 a week later after we've done your job for you the money's already in the bank.

Assuming, of course, that the lawyers of the subject at hand don't take notice. I'd hate to think of what such a case could do to the dwindling numbers of an institution like The Scotsman.

But then I'm a cynic – a cynical veteran news guy who's been fighting these same battles for years. What could I possibly know about how to play this game?