The Angry Corrie 46: Jul-Aug 2000

TAC 46 Index

Sad but true: a Hardy girl mystery

Those TAC readers who never stumbled across the editor in his most recent day job, that of editorial assistant and ultimately acting editor on the Outdoors section of The Scotsman, should turn straight to some other bit of the magazine and not worry about this. There are many, however, who enjoyed reading Outdoors every Saturday - TAC's ethos filtered through strongly - and who might now be puzzled as to what has happened to it. Something calling itself "Outdoors" still appears, but since late May, quite aside from the editor's Hill Informed column having vanished, the content and quality of the section has, in the eyes of many, been completely and utterly trashed.

There is a long and instructive story to be told here, of how newspapers are often little more than manifestations of their editors' egos and mood swings, and a little background ought to be sketched in. As has been documented elsewhere, The Scotsman has been in turmoil for some time, losing circulation and haemorrhaging what its publisher Andrew Neil once notoriously referred to as its "amateur" staff. In February, Alan Ruddock, the editor who oversaw the introduction of Outdoors, was ousted, with Tim Luckhurst, formerly Ruddock's deputy, taking over.

In general, things continued smoothly for the specialised sections of the paper, even when Luckhurst went off sick with high blood-pressure. Early in May, however, the paper was "re-launched": a major redesign which saw most features-related sections, including Outdoors, carved off into a tabloid pullout. This was always going to be a difficult time for Outdoors, as not only did the shape of the pages change but the section's original editor and guiding spirit, Robert Dawson Scott, moved to another job. Dawson Scott's vision and energy had seen Outdoors grow into a section which treated outdoors-goers as experienced, in-telligent adults. Week after week of stimulating, topical and - crucially - entertaining writing had covered any outdoor activity which wasn't a formal sport and which didn't involve the infernal combustion engine.

TAC's editor had been involved since the March 1999 start, and was groomed - insofar as he ever is - to step up and take the section forward. This was never given the chance to happen, however. In May, Neil removed Luckhurst as the paper's editor, even though dismissing someone when they're ill seems akin to shooting someone as they sleep. The new new editor was former Daily Mail showbiz writer Rebecca Hardy - and it doesn't take much to deduce what happens when a bit-player on a reactionary tabloid is parachuted into overseeing the outdoors section of a broadsheet such as The Scotsman. Quite frankly, my dears, Hardy didn't give a damn.

Suddenly Outdoors was the subject of accelerated dumbing-down, and without any consultation several strong pieces were pulled late in the production process. Nor was this a mere squall of editorial vanity that could be sat out, as the following week's big piece (on access problems in Letterewe) was likewise replaced by some shoved-in stuff about the Countryside Alliance and Iona tourism.

The level of editorial ignorance about the section's aims and subject matter was laughable, as shown when at one stage word filtered down that the access piece might still be feasible "with a sidepanel about B&Bs in Letterewe". It was hard to know what to do short of seeking out the editor, grabbing her trendy collar in both hands and yelling "That's the point, damn you: people love these places because there are no 'tourist attractions', no B&Bs."

Suddenly there was no Outdoors as the readership knew it - and so, rather than lose integrity and have to apologise for what was now a sham and a shame, your Ed resigned on 28 May. A bummer, but it had been good while it lasted.

Circulation figures rose markedly with the relaunch-cum-dumbdown, so the bosses and moneymen will doubtless feel justified as they bustle around in their joyless little world. Others are less convinced, however.

So: if you want to read entry-level blurb about how to walk the West Highland Way, or thrilling details on farmers' markets and dog shows, then do keep reading "Outdoors" as it stands. If on the other hand you want some interesting writing about hills and lochs, then, as they say on the TV sports news, look away now. After all, the original Out- doors ethic will undoubtedly resurface elsewhere, and soon - and TAC will keep you (hill) informed.

TAC 46 Index