The National:

This week's Behind the Headlines comes from managing editor Stewart Ward – to receive this newsletter direct to your inbox every week, click here to sign up.

“LESS thought-provoking and more cringe-inducing.”

Those were the words of Ross Greer about The National’s front pages.

That was in 2017 – but I’ve been digging back through our archives this past month and I was reminded of this remark.

At the time, it prompted a healthy back and forth between ourselves and the Green MSP. We are a paper well known for our front pages, though, and so, in this Behind the Headlines, I want to let you into our thinking about our covers and how that has evolved as we near a major birthday.

In 2017, our front pages had more pictures and fewer words. Our belief was that, as a still relatively young newspaper, we wanted to grab attention on the newsstands – and in doing so, the pro-independence, pro-Scotland messages we often carried on our fronts would draw people’s eyes. The lead story would usually stand in contrast to those in the other titles available.

The National:

We’ve had some notable ones since then. Callum Baird left the front page unedited with text reading “HEADLINE HERE, HEADLINE HERE” and a silhouette of Theresa May when we were shut out of her visit to Scotland. It attracted global attention to the UK Government’s undemocratic ways that I’m sure our readers are very familiar with.

More recently, editor Laura Webster – capitalising on the success of the Barbie movie – splashed on a vision of Keir Starmer as “Ken”. It again went viral and highlighted the many similarities between the Labour leader and the doll. They were not flattering for him.

The National:

And in the past couple of weeks, our fronts have featured pictures of protests in solidarity with Palestinians and of the death and destruction in Gaza – such as at the refugee camp bombed by Israel’s military. That is a tragedy we continue to devote much coverage to.

If you look at the overall trend for our front pages, you will find that far more these days are heavier on words than pictures. In 2017, we would start the day by assuming the front page would be focused on an image. In 2023, we start the day by assuming the front page will be focused on the words.

So, was Ross Greer right after all?

The National: Scottish Green Party MSP Ross Greer

I believe the truth is a bit more complicated than that. We are a newspaper that has evolved. Evolution is another thing the Yes movement knows about.

We are coming up to our 10th birthday next year. Despite all the naysayers, thanks to the support of our readers, we’re hanging around as Scotland’s only pro-independence newspaper and have huge digital reach, too. And that’s key, as our front pages are seen far beyond the shops they are available in. We are established ... but not establishment.

Looking at the news landscape now, and with the top team of journalists we have, we want to make sure we’re an authoritative voice on Scotland. Being a pro-independence newspaper means more than covering grassroots Yes events, as much as we love them. It means finding and reporting on stories about Scottish successes or ways in which the UK has held us back that other titles wouldn’t touch.

And so our front pages often are less tabloid-y these days. We’ve settled into a rhythm, responding to our readers, that means we don’t want to force a perhaps amusing front page where it isn’t warranted. We’ll still do them where it suits – see Ken Starmer – but we’re selective. When we do them, we want them to really resonate.

At other times, we’ll go more traditional. But make no mistake … the message is still clear.

The National:

A recent example. One of the most popular stories on our website recently has been about a major pipeline project. When we splashed that on the front page, the words read: “Plans to export green hydrogen to Europe ramped up.”

It’s a simple message but says to anyone seeing it that Scotland wants to be green and wants to work with our partners in Europe – not scapegoat them. That’s a vision of optimism for our country that you won’t always see in the media and which exposes hard truths about the state of the Union.

So, our methods are a little different, but our aims are exactly the same. And as ever, we’re always keen to receive feedback from our readers and from those of you reading this newsletter. Let’s work together for Scotland.