The Scotsman Johnston Press Caledonian Mercury

'New website a homage to the past': Stewart Kirkpatrick reviews the redeveloped website


By Stephen Lepitak, -

October 14, 2011 | 4 min read

Stewart Kirkpatrick, editor of Caledonian Mercury and former editor of from 2000 – 2007, shares his views on the newly redeveloped website, launched this week.

A strange tune danced in my mind on first looking into the new It was The Likely Lads theme: “The only thing to forward to is the past.”

Indeed the newly unveiled 2011 looks very like the 2001-2007 version that was so successful before Johnston Press buggered it up.

It is worth recording just how successful the old version was: Its traffic increased ten-fold to 4 million unique users a month, It was one of Google News's top 30 worldwide news sources, It was the sixth biggest news site in the UK.

Now, I understand,’s traffic is around 1.5 million [according to itself, the figure is 2.1m] unique users a month. Those 2.5 million users are gone for ever. I warned them then JP chief executive Tim Bowdler that that would happen if JP imposed their one-size-fits-all rubbishy local website template on It happened anyway.

That is in the past. What about the present?

First, let me discuss the good bits of the redesign. It looks miles better than the previous JP site. That is not high praise, however – you could say the same about the contents of the average poop scoop.

Now for the bad bits. The main, screaming problem is the lack of topic-based navigation beyond broad categories. These “themes” were introduced on in 2001 - slightly ahead of the widespread spread of “tags”, which have been the mainstay of sophisticated navigation for a decade. They’re gone now.

My current project, the massively under-financed Caley Merc is as ugly as a bucket of smashed crabs and runs on the web equivalent of a bucket of Lada spanners but even it has tag-based navigation. Our outdated WordPress implementation boasts functionality The Scotsman does not.

On the other hand, The Scotsman has caught up with basic blog features such as “most read” and “most commented”. But the navigation is confused and offers duplication or redundancy.

This is all summed up by the way I accessed the new It was on an iPad just after I’d used The Times app. The Hootsmon looked old and tired in comparison, as befits something akin to a design we left on the cutting room floor in 2001. Digital has moved on since then so it is simply not good enough that now looks a bit like it did ten years ago.

There are very clever and talented people at The Scotsman. There are very clever and talented digital people in Johnston Press. I know. I’ve met them. But their inventiveness never seems to reach the final online product.

Just take a look at the ads on the new site. Bingo? Unsecured loans? Come on, people. This is The Scotsman, not the Craphampton Bugle.

I may come across as a curmudgeon but I desperately care about “the grey lady of North Bridge”. It was part of my life for 12 years and I still have printers’ plates of cherished editions on my wall. The smell of Scotsman ink lured me into journalism and I have been dismayed by its demise.

Online will play an increasingly central role in the future of the Scotsman. The “new” website is a partial homage to a successful past.

And, unless somebody who knows what they are doing rescues it soon, the past is where The Scotsman will very soon reside.

The Scotsman Johnston Press Caledonian Mercury

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