One day, rather to my surpise, I became the senior assistant editor of The Scotsman newspaper. It was, to put it charitably, rather an old fashioned sort of broadsheet. Something of a martyr to the "Aye Been" tendency. Suggestions that pictures might be larger and might feature something more arresting than two men in pinstripes shaking hands drew sharp intakes of breath such as you might expect from a new plumber breaking news about your likely bill. Proposals that columnists might conform to a reasonable word count rather than trundle on till they ran out of steam were, ahem, somewhat unpopular.
Then there were the chaps whose job it was to write the editorials; one long one, one a medium length, and one little more than a few pawky lines.There were three of them, and they greeted the arrival of a woman executive - one who had actually once worked for tabloids - with something less than unalloyed enthusiasm. They were particularly exercised by the suggestion that they might turn their hand to the odd feature or column given that their current workload was something less than arduous. But, protested one, we need time to think. To digest current affairs magazins.. To reflect on the positions to be taken. They seemed shocked at the thought that other journalists might do that as a matter of course in their own time.
My first morning conferences could not be filed under daily joy. Many men, most of whom seemed to smoke pipes, letting it be known that the end of the world must surely be nigh if a woman was having the temerity to take the chair. It has to be said that the culture shock was strictly two way. Meanwhile the women who looked after the women's pages had firm ideas about what women should read. It was much discussed over their fixed morning tea break and did not include matters polite Edinburgh society might find troublesome.
But what it also had in those days was editorial integrity. It was instinctively in favour of devolution. It commanded respect from colleagues around the world. People wanted to work for it, and certainly cared for it. It produced many fine journalists not least current houshold names like Jim Naughtie and Andrew Marr. Its features department, where I mostly plyed my trade, had sub editors with an enviable intellctual rigour. One of them was the, late, great Ian Bell.
It was literate and it was serious. It was thoughtful and considered. And, in its time honoured leisurely way, it changed its pace and its look. A new masthead which, typically, was argued over for a very long time. New layouts and type faces, ditto. All that is worth saying to all those many people who have taken to social media to trash it without perhaps spending too much time examining its history.
The strike was a watershed moment. The then management had an agenda which included the end of collective bargaining, perhaps in the knowledge that was the route to cheaper journalism. My own clue as to the likely future turn of events came when I was advised to turn in my NUJ card. It might be an embarrassment it was suggested. In the event. I demurred. The Scotsman staff went on strike and, having concluded there was a better class of people on the picket line than in the boardroom, I joined them. On reflection agreeing to stand on that line on day one, was not a great look.
That dispute had a number of unintended consequences. One was handing the inaugural editorship of the new Scotland on Sunday to a company grandee whose grasp of the editorial imperatives was somewhat less than cutting edge. And in succeeding years there was also musical chairs at the Scotsman itself. Magnus Linklater, who came up from The Observer brought fresh thinking though - to the chagrin of many of us - also gave birth to a Court Circular. In The Scotsman? Neverthless the paper got some of its mojo back until Magnus too fell foul of an intransigent management, and went on to edit the Times in Scotland.
The later years have been very well documented. The purchase by the reclusive Barclay Brothers. The appointment of Andrew Neil as editor, a man with a considerable journalistic track record, but a political outlook which hardly chimed with the readership. It's my experience that you rarely put on sales by constantly trashing the views of your core buyers. But there was too the relentless migration online of much of the advertising on which all newspaper had depended.
The purchase by the Johnston Press was another watershed. Although they also published the venerable Yorkshire Post, their porfolio was principally a wide range of local press even more dependant on that elusive advertising. And all the while the editorial budgets were trimmed as was the staff. When I worked for The Scotsman there was a full time staffer writing from Europe and a nap hand of specialist correspondants on the staff. All long considered surplus to requirments.
Meanwhile a bewildering array of people took the helm successively of both the daily and the Sunday newspaper. So many that I cannot recall who was in charge of Scotland on Sunday they day they published that shameful doctored Saltire reworked as a Nazi symbol. But what I do know is that there are still some fine journalists trying to ply an honest trade at what used to be known as North Bridge, until they upped sticks and re-located near Holyrood.
The Scotsman building, where I worked for some years before coming home to the West, is now a hotel. And, I gather, a popular cocktail bar. The current owners have passed the baton to their creditors including an American hedge fund. Some people have taken this as a cue for a spot of grave dancing. I find it very sad. Scotland needs and deserves good journalism. And it still boasts many fine journalists. They need outlets to ply their trade.