Hold the front page. The press normally reports the news. Yesterday it made it.
The launch of The National defies all accepted wisdom. The newspaper industry is supposed to be on its knees. Who launches a newspaper in this day and age?
The chances of success are about as remote as landing a spacecraft on a comet.
Yet here it is, in all its glory. Decked out in patriotic blue and white, The National – with its witty masthead – looks as if it has been around for ages.
Newspaper launches are often the result of years of careful planning, and even then they can falter. What is remarkable about The National is how assured it is. It is clear about its news values, and confident about its voice.
Much of that must be down to its pedigree. With a campaigning style and poster front page, The National is very much a sibling of the Sunday Herald (unsurprisingly the two papers share their editor).
Those who suspected it would be peopled by articles promoting an inward-looking ‘Little Scotland’ will have been confounded. It takes a global view, and makes it clear that it is not party political in allegiance.
That’s a wise course to take. Not all yes voters were SNP; and, if it gets the chance to grow and develop as a paper, it will have a role in calling Nicola Sturgeon’s new government to account. At times, The Nat will have to become the gnat.
The independence campaign constantly challenged accepted wisdom. And it revealed a gap in the media landscape.
The campaign proved people are not bored by politics: they care. It proved that voter apathy is not an incurable disease – the turnout was astounding. It proved that you can lose the vote and win an election. The momentum now is with the losers, who exceeded all expectations, rather than the victors.
The National is the result of that momentum. “The newspaper that supports an independent Scotland” helps heal one of the most striking deficits in Scottish public life.
In a nation where almost half the population supports independence, the press is overwhelmingly unionist. That’s not a healthy situation. Journalists are the first to recognise that, and they will welcome the arrival of a new kid on the block (even if the added competition worries them).
For all the gripes about the BBC, the media had a good referendum. The debate was fairly handled in the press, and on screen. But those who support independence have a right to see their views validated by the editorial policy of some of the papers they read.
The challenge for The National will be sustain its sureness of touch on days when it is reporting the news, not making it.
The daily grind can be debilitating – particularly on those lacklustre days when nothing exciting seems to happen. It will also need to find a voice that speaks to those beyond the Glasgow-Edinburgh axis. Readers outside cities abhor metropolitan elites.
When news of The National’s pilot launch first broke, some may have suspected its readership would be confined to the ‘yes’ voters alone. The paper – fleet of foot – has a much wider appeal than that.
For the rest of the press – including its sister paper The Herald – The National represents increased competition. But that’s good for readers and it is good for newspapers.