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September 23, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 8:22am

BBC documentary helps boost subscriptions at Herald Scotland

By Charlotte Tobitt

Scotland’s daily Herald newspaper saw a boost in new subscribers after a BBC documentary going behind the scenes in the newsroom, it has said.

More than 200 print and digital subscribers signed up to The Herald and its sister titles The National and the Evening Times – all owned by Newsquest – in the past five days, with more signing up every day.

The growth included a 70 per cent uplift in daily subscriptions for The Herald in the first two days after broadcast. Engagement across the three brands was also said to have “massively increased” during the period.

The first episode of The Papers aired on BBC One Scotland on Wednesday last week.

The first hour-long episode followed The Herald facing budget cuts while Newsquest closed the Sunday Herald to launch two new titles – the Herald on Sunday and the Sunday National.

BBC camera crews went behind the scenes in the shared newsroom for several months in what Newsquest Scotland editor-in-chief Donald Martin (pictured, left) described as a “huge risk” for the newspaper brands.

“But in an age of fake news and political upheaval where trust has never been more important, I am delighted that we have been able to engage with readers in a way that gives them a unique insight into the world of digital natives and inky fingers,” Martin said.

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“I would like to thank everyone who has been in touch – and all those who have chosen to back quality journalism in Scotland through this flood of new subscriptions – I hope others will join them after the next episode airs.”

Martin added that messages of support sent to staff since the programme aired showed how readers were “blown away by the dedication, professionalism and sheer hard work it takes to maintain such high journalistic standards seven days a week in print and online”.

Since the documentary aired, readers are being offered a 21-day free trial of the Herald’s “premium plus” package – but a Newsquest spokesperson said many of the new sign-ups had decided not to take the offer up.

“Most people have chosen not to take the free trial – instead choosing to pay for our journalism, which speaks volumes for the power of the documentary,” the paper said.

The premium plus package gives unrestricted access to content on the Herald website, which has had a metered paywall since 2011.

Readers also get the digital page-turning replica of The Herald every day, access to the e-edition and the app, and full search access to the newspaper’s archives. The package normally costs £7.99 per month.

Readers of The Herald website currently see a message at the bottom of the page saying: “Thank you to all our readers who have subscribed to The Herald since our team appeared on BBC1 Scotland’s The Papers this week. And if you are yet to subscribe you can try us for free by clicking below.”

The titles hopes it will see  a similar boost after the second BBC episode.

According to Herald and Evening Times digital editor Stephen McIlkenny the Herald website saw a rise in traffic of 14 per cent as the first episode aired, with a seven per cent rise in search traffic.

Callum Baird, editor of pro-Scottish independence The National, said the documentary saw readers “signing up in droves to back our journalism”.

“Reaction to the programme has been overwhelmingly positive – Scots have clearly recognised the importance of paying for quality journalism. We’d like to thank everybody who has been in touch with messages of support.”

The second and final episode of The Papers, due to air at 9pm on Wednesday, will follow the journalists as they head towards the planned Brexit day of 29 March and transition to rolling digital content.

The BBC said the episode shows Martin “overseeing the daily tide of news coverage while delivering more bad news about further cuts and redundancies”.

Picture: BBC/Angela Catlin

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