'Journalists cannot be sold at owner's whim': Jaspan

Sunday Herald: for sale with other SMG titles

Editor Andrew Jaspan has put a "For Sale" sign over the Sunday Herald masthead as SMG prepares to sell the award-winning newspaper, but he has warned potential buyers that his journalists are not part of the auction.

His views may not sit comfortably with new owners, but Jaspan was determined to speak out in defence of his three-year-old paper and its staff.

"The team that is here now created this paper with a huge amount of hard work. They cannot be bought like a packet of cornflakes," he said.

After two meetings with his senior team, he wrote in last Sunday’s paper: "We are convinced that the best journalism flourishes under a condition of editorial independence where the editor and his team set the paper’s agenda and policy.

"That is what SMG guaranteed and we would expect the new owner to honour this contractual arrangement.

"The Sunday Herald has attracted the services of some of the very best journalists in the UK but a new owner should be in no doubt that these journalists are not ‘bonded labour’ to be bought and sold at the whim of a proprietor."

New owners who are not respected could face losing the key staff, Jaspan cautioned, adding: "They would end up buying an empty vessel."

Given the degree of independence he has, Jaspan said he did not feel he needed to tell SMG he was making the public statement, but, out of courtesy, he told his immediate managing director, Des Hudson.

"That’s a huge privilege that very few editors in the country enjoy and one that I will fight to the death to ensure I don’t lose," he told Press Gazette.

The Sunday Herald, along with sister titles The Herald and Glasgow’s Evening Times, has attracted between 15 and 20 interested parties, who must place their offers by 27 September. Then SMG will select preferred bidders.  SMG chief executive Andrew Flanagan has said he is not obliged to sell to the highest bidder and would prefer another newspaper group to a financial buyer.

Jaspan’s statement contained a stinging attack on what he claims has  happened at The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and the Edinburgh Evening News  since their sale to the Barclay brothers.

Under publisher Andrew Neil, he said, their "previously sovereign editors were effectively stripped of their ability to control their editorial policy, direction and personnel.

"Puppet editors were appointed to further his [Neil’s] propaganda agenda. His confrontational approach led to a large staff walkout, a sales and profits collapse and consequently he has jeopardised the long-term viability of those papers."

Jaspan said he wanted the new owners to have  local management that understands the market place and is prepared to invest in his paper.

"We have shown good journalism will attract good new readers and we are not prepared to give this up lightly," he emphasised.


By Jean Morgan

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