Ian Stewart Interview
Edinburgh Evening News editor Ian StewartAs far as journalists go, the editor of the Evening News’ desk is run with a military precision – either that or he’s been tidying up before a weekend away with his family and recently acquired dog.
Ian Stewart, a former Royal Marine who served in the Commandos during the Falklands War, came into the newspaper game slightly late.
He started at the Nottingham Evening Post and stayed for six years before joining the Scotsman as night news editor. After working his way through the ranks Stewart joined the Scottish Daily Mail as assistant editor in Glasgow.
However, it wasn’t long before Stewart rejoined the Scotsman Publications as assistant editor of Scotland on Sunday. He switched to the Edinburgh Evening News as deputy editor in June 2001 and the following year he took over the editorship of the paper, when John McLellan, then Evening News editor, moved to take the reins at SOS.
And there he sits today, in the editor’s chair, planning tomorrow’s assault on the Edinburgh evening newspaper market. Over the last year the Edinburgh Evening News has kidnapped the heart of the capital’s public. With the introduction of a number of new supplements, an earlier publishing time, a change in target and a fresh editor, the re-birth of the Evening News is now complete, and the Scotsman Publications is starting to reap the benefits of the hard work.
Yet Stewart is not resting on his laurels: “There is more development to go. Papers are constantly evolving. You can’t afford to stand still. We are constantly thinking about what we need to add to the paper to make it more attractive. Sometimes the ideas work, sometimes they don’t. The great thing about the News is that we have great figures. Within the next week we can see how well things have done. If it is working, then great. If not, then we can change.”
Currently it’s working. An extra 57,000 readers joined the paper last year, according to the National Readership Survey, an increase of 34 per cent on 2001. And figures show that for the year January to December 2002 the Evening News had 225,000 readers as opposed to 168,000 over the same period the previous year.
“The Evening News has to be many things, but foremost it needs to be a forum for debate,” says Stewart of the success. “The paper will have opinions about things, of course it will, but we always recognise that others will counter these opinions and we will allow them space in the newspaper to do so.
“We need to identify the issues in Edinburgh and tell the people what they are. Sure, we’ll take a side, but we are not always going to be right.
“We also have to be, to some extent, the voice of the people, in that we have to raise people’s concerns with the authorities, with the council, with whatever the quango or whatever the organisation may be. We have to give the people a way to let their voice be heard. That, perhaps, is the chief role of an evening newspaper.”
And heard they have been. The newspaper has captured the imagination of the Edinburgh public with the recent “Ticket, Stick It” campaign.
“There seemed to be a huge number of complaints about the parking attendants – or the enforcers – contracted by the council to police the parking restrictions. Strange complaints,” says Stewart, explaining the campaign.
“We had to find a way of trying to force the council to act. Newspapers can shout and shout and shout, but unless you find some way to bring some pressure to bear, then it doesn’t do any good.
“We thought it would be a good idea to ‘Ticket, Stick It’ – if people got a ticket, then they should tell the council to ‘stick it’ and appeal against it.
“The council was struggling to deal with the number of appeals anyway and if we increased the number of appeals hugely, then the wheels of council bureaucracy would grind to a halt.
“They really played into our hands,” smiles Stewart as he launches into yet another story.
A joiner had parked, as he had done for the previous few days, outside the shop he was working in. He came out to find a yellow line had been painted up to his back wheel, stopped and started again from the front and a parking ticket had been wedged under his windscreen wiper.
But there was a more solemn part to the campaign too. A number of stories had run in the paper of parking attendants being shot, assaulted and even having chemicals sprayed in their faces. There were more and more people getting upset by the enforcers.
“What we wanted to do was get it out in the open and make people aware of it and, hopefully, act on it.”
After the success, the second part of the campaign is already in motion – Enforcer Watch – encouraging readers to continue to give feedback on the service of the enforcers. However, Stewart smiles as he shows the headline of an ambulance and a hearse both being booked in the capital within a week of each other. “Maybe we need to go back to basics,” he suggests with a wry grin.
Perhaps it has been the paper’s back-to-basics management approach that has led to the recent boom for the News. The title has been under a long-term repositional process, which was launched six years ago, when the Scotsman Publications attempted to bring the title more upmarket.
Last year the paper grew its target ABC1 market by 71 per cent, with 55 per cent of its, then, total readership accounted for by the upper band. So, again, this strategy seems to have paid off.
“Edinburgh is a middle-class city and it makes sense to try to tailor the product to the middle-class market.
“The title is now the product that Scotsman Publications wanted, so we started to market it last year, and into this year, putting quite a lot of spend behind the product, and that spend is starting to work very well for us.”
Along with the introduction of a number of major supplements, Stewart also took the decision to move the edition times forward.
“This is quite a crucial decision,” says the editor. “We had been going to press at ten thirty, which meant that editorial was finished by ten o’ clock, which is fairly standard for evening newspapers. But what we had identified though, through an experiment the year before, was that if you went an hour earlier you can pick sales up and sell more papers simply on the basis that the longer you are on the street, the more copies you will sell.”
There were a number of issues to conquer, though – not least the reporters’ hours; they thought that if they started working an hour earlier they would simply work an hour longer in the day.
“We had to convince them that that wasn’t the case. I think that we did that quite convincingly and, as a result, since the change, I don’t think that hours have been the issues that they once were, because we do get people away.
“We went with it and started the changes last February. We promoted what we thought would sell – the new platforms – and the hope was that if we changed the product, invested in marketing it and telling people that it was there, then people might pick it up, like what they see and continue to buy.”
That was going fine, until the small matter of the press fire at the Newhaven printing works in March.
“We had to work extremely hard to get a paper out on the Saturday at all. We had to use the heat-set press, as the main press was out of action. That hit us. We were four hours late, and if you are late on the streets, you see your sales drop.
“It was like a war zone. The operators were stepping over charred mounds of paper and debris to get the newspaper out. We lost a lot of circulation that Saturday and it’s been very difficult to claw that back. We’d done all the hard work and then we were hit by the fire and it was difficult to see which way the figures were going.”
The balance swung in Stewart’s favour. And now, with the weekend approaching, he can pull down the blinds on his view over Arthur’s Seat, file away the most recent issue of the newspaper and enjoy his weekend away with the family (and new dog) safe in that knowledge.