Part 2 of the Scottish Morning Star Readers & Supporters Conference.
Recorded August 2016 at the Scottish Trades Union Congress
Morning Star Circulation Manager
Bernadette started by reporting some recent discussions in the newspaper trade that focused on the erosion of print sales and the switch to apps and social media. One very highly placed executive argued that print paper sales would always continue because our ruling establishment felt that they needed the capacity to dominate opinion through mass print. ‘This is also the reason why our own movement needs a paper that can counter this and be seen in the shops alongside the Sun and Guardian.’ Bernadette reported recently attending a museum display in which the Morning Star was described as the paper of record for the Labour Movement. ‘This is a correct description and one of which we should all be proud’.
In terms of circulation the Star depended on the system of ‘universal distribution’ that existed in Britain via 75 wholesale warehouses. Currently in Scotland the number of copies sent to the wholesaler was a bit more than three times what was actually sold. Our experience was that if the number supplied was increased, so would the number sold – but with diminishing returns over time and, as a result, higher costs for the paper which it could not afford. This made it all the more important that readers and supporters took up the task of winning new readers themselves.
Bernadette praised Scotland for the number of its Readers and Supporters Groups and outlined ways in which they could more effectively boost readership.
1. Map your area: know all the trade union offices, trade union branch secretaries and the officers of local Labour Party and Momentum groups
2. Be public: hold meetings and publicly sell papers – and follow up those who buy the paper: the Star could print leaflets given a couple of weeks’ notice
3. Use shops more effectively: try to get posters into shops advertising the paper and consider ways in which the paper centrally could use ‘bounce-back’: providing a discount voucher for the Star to everyone who bought another paper – in Scotland this might be the Daily Record.
4. Raise money for the Fighting Fund: month by month the paper lived hand to mouth financially and money coming in via the Fund was always essential.
Issues raised included whether the paper should re-introduce a ‘Women’s page’ to focus on specific issues such as the crisis of women’s pension entitlement and whether or not the Star should carry as much sport coverage as it did. A counter-argument was that every page should be a women’s page and that the Star, fairly uniquely, consciously championed gender equality. Davy Brockett raised the challenge of getting the paper into large workplaces such as Rosyth and the Clyde shipyards. Scot Walker reported that papers always went into the convener’s office in his own workplace. Phil McGarry spoke of the broader importance of getting the paper into community struggles and the fight against the cuts through the People’s Assembly. There was some debate over the sports page.
A number of those present stressed that the Star’s coverage was relatively unique in the space it gave to women’s sport, to black players and to progressive activity by fans. The paper for that day, for instance, contained a feature on the money’s raised at Parkhead for Palestine and featured photographs of the Green Brigade in Palestine. Kadeem Simonds was in fact the only black sports editor across the press and the Star had received widespread praise for this.