Donald MartinCharles McGhee’s departure to The Herald editorship at the end of January left many guaranteeing that his deputy Jeanette Harkess would take over the top job, however as last week’s announcement of the appointment of Aberdeen Evening Express editor, Donald Martin, showed; it was not to be. Harkess is to move over to McGhee’s team on The Herald, leaving a deputy editor vacancy on the daily evening paper.
Forty-one year old Martin’s appointment has already ruffled a few feathers in the Times’ offices, with many speculating Martin will bring his respected deputy from Aberdeen, Damian Bates, to Glasgow with him.
“I genuinely think Jeanette Harkess is a loss to the Evening Times and myself,” says Martin. “But no, I’m not going to bring someone in right away, I want first of all to look at the staff that are there. It does give me an opportunity to look at all the staff working at the Times over the first few months.”
The Evening Express has become the best-selling daily in the Aberdeen area under Martin’s tenure and commercially, Martin’s leaving Northcliffe Newspapers on a high. The paper swept the board at the company’s Circulation, Editorial & Promotions Awards, winning Daily News Design Award, Actively Purchased Circulation Award for Dailies Over 45,000 for 2003-2005 and the Best Sales Performance Award for Dailies Over 45,000.
Martin’s commercial nous and his no-nonsense management style has earned him the reputation of being a tough boss. A graduate of Glasgow University, he trained with Thomson Regional Newspapers before winning his first editor’s job, aged 24, to launch Edinburgh & Lothian Post in 1988. He went on a year later to work at the Reading Evening Post, then Cambridge Evening News, North West Evening Mail before landing in Aberdeen in 1997.
Martin admits that he is looking forward to returning to his home city.
”I’ve always wanted to return to Glasgow to edit my home city newspaper,” he says. “It’s always every editor’s ambition to edit their home city’s newspaper, as you have a natural affinity for the area.”
Already, vultures are circling for Martin, with insiders speculating that he has a rocky relationship with the National Union of Journalists, no doubt fuelled by a couple of high profile employment tribunals over the last couple of years. Could it be that he’s being brought in to be the hatchet man, and drive the redundancies?
“There a great number of talented journalists on the Evening Times, some of whom I know, and that was a factor in my decision,” he says. “I think Newsquest is going through a painful time. I personally would look at how efficiently the paper’s run to ensure resources are in the right place, but that wouldn’t necessarily have to mean losing staff.”
Martin’s reposition of the Express in Aberdeen has increased circulation but has also attracted a younger audience. “We’ve made sure there’s clear difference between the Express and the Press and Journal,” he says. “We both have our own news agenda, with the Express concentrating on ‘families on the move’ and the younger cosmopolitan audience in the centre of the city.”
McGhee’s pioneering campaigns will also continue. The Express has run several high-profile campaigns over the last eight years, one of the best known ones being a campaign to stop parents parking at schools, which involved the paper’s photographer taking pictures and registrations of the illegally parked cars. “We eradicated the problem overnight,” says Martin. “We also campaigned on a wider scale about moving Aberdeen forward. That’s the big difference with Glasgow, it’s a more dynamic city.”
Unfortunately, the appointment of Martin could mean an end to the close relationship between the Evening Times and Glasgow City Council, as The Express battled with Aberdeen Council on several occasions. But advertisers will enjoy more involvement.
“I think we need to work closely with advertisers and promotions as you can’t run a newspaper on editorial alone, that’s obvious,” says Martin. “We’ll provide quality editorial to bring in the right advertiser. The main thing we’ve done is target the newspapers very closely at the readership to ensure the content adds value. I think the Times is nicely positioned in the marketplace and my job is about adding value to build on the core content.”
Martin’s expected to be in place by the end of May, and is first looking to tackle his critics, one of whom likened his appointment to “The Guardian being taken over by the editor of the Daily Star”. “I think that’s hilarious,” he laughs. “We’ve been joking about it in here. I won’t make it downmarket, but I will inject some Glasgow humour. I do think you’ve got to tap into that as newspapers should have some fun. And working in newspapers should be fun too, I would hope people working with me will have a lot of fun.”