`The Street' Is History, but Papers Still Thrive

DOZENS of gold-leafed names and dates glitter against a wood-paneled foyer outside the editor's office at the Scotsman. ``Magnus Duncan Linklater - 1988- '' is the latest addition to the list of the newspaper's editors, a list that reads like a ``Who's Who'' of Scottish journalism, including ``William Ritchie - 1817-1831,'' ``Alastair MacTavish Dunnett - 1956-1972,'' and ``Christopher Frank Baur - 1985-1988.''

According to Mr. Linklater, the future of Britain's newspaper industry is every bit as bright as the names which illumine his foyer.

``Despite bad reports, the industry has never been in a healthier state,'' he says with a satisfied look on his face as he leans back in his chair overlooking the Scottish capital. ``New technology makes it possible to make a profit by keeping production costs down.''

The Scotsman, a 90,000-circulation daily that bills itself as ``Scotland's national newspaper,'' is not an isolated success story, Linklater says. London's newspaper industry - especially the larger-circulation high-quality papers - generally has been healthy for much of the past decade. For example:

Advertising revenue for the national high-quality dailies rose by 137 percent from 1983 to 1989.

Although sensational tabloids have seen their revenue drop 5 percent since 1982, sales of high-quality papers have risen by 20 percent in the same time period.

Each month, 93 percent of the British population sees at least one of the country's 11 national newspapers.

In a country of some 56 million people, 20.7 million newspapers are read a day.

Paid-for weekly papers sell 7.9 million copies a week, and another 41 million free papers are published weekly.

Throughout the latter 1980s, Britain's national newspapers fled Fleet Street, the country's journalistic epicenter.

Media tycoon Eddie Shah set the stage for the Fleet Street exodus in 1985 when he launched Today, Britain's first national color tabloid, produced with state-of-the-art technology, and with a work force only 20 percent of the size employed by other national newspapers. Rupert Murdoch followed suit in 1986 when he moved his News International papers - Times, Sun, Sunday Times, and News of the World - to Wapping, and reduced his once largely unionized work force from 6,500 to 1,000. The Daily Express, Fleet Street's last remaining newspaper, moved from ``the Street'' in 1989.

``Cheap sites, the opportunity to install new presses often utilizing color printing, and the possibility of simultaneously reducing the work force and introducing new work rules combined to lure publishers out of central London,'' says Brian Knox-Peebles, group marketing director of London-based United Newspapers, a major newspaper publishing company.

This year's recession, according to Raymond Snoddy, the Financial Times's media correspondent, has ushered in the worst newspaper advertising sales in years. Not only are ad revenues down, but only two of Britain's national dailies - the Daily Star and the Financial Times - have shown circulation gains this year.

Buckingham Palace has seldom been happy with how the sensationalistic tabloids have depicted the royal family. And increasingly, this distaste for the ``gutter press,'' as some here call it, has spilled over to the population as a whole.

Older journalists say that they can't remember a time when the press was so unpopular. In fact, recent opinion polls here rank journalists at the bottom of the ``believability ladder,'' along with real estate agents and politicians.

Readers of more elite papers have recently tired of the often overt biases seen in the country's national newspapers. For much of this century, the Daily Telegraph was a staunch supporter and apologist for the Conservative Party, the Guardian consistently leaned to the left on social and economic matters, the Times veered to the right on most issues, and the Financial Times charted a clearly capitalistic course.

But in 1986 the Independent was launched. This newspaper's nonpartisan reporting earned it both numerous awards and a large - and growing - readership. As a result, the other elite dailies have become more graphically appealing, less gray, and less strident.

In the past two years, two new high-quality Sunday newspapers were launched. The Correspondent languished in broadsheet format, but is being relaunched in a smaller format. The Independent on Sunday, the offspring of the successful daily, appears to be holding its own in a competitive field.

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