Newspapers: Why Iain Martin Will Soon Edit a National Newspaper

Iain Martin was yesterday appointed deputy editor of The Sunday Telegraph. It is the latest in a series of moves that leaves the 35 year-old journalist one job away from becoming the first Scottish editor of a quality national newspaper since Andrew Neil left the Sunday Times in 1994.

The mere mention of Neil and Martin in the same sentence will lead critics to question the merits of the latter’s progress up the career ladder. Neil has been Martin’s mentor since being interviewed by the then student for the Glasgow University Guardian in the early 1990s.
Neil, impressed by Martin’s intellect, gave the history graduate work experience and, eventually, a reporting job on the Sunday Times. When Sir David and Sir Frederick Barclay bought Scotsman Publications, which Neil was put in charge of, Martin joined Scotland on Sunday as
political editor in 1997. He built a reputation as a good news journalist, unafraid to challenge political leaders and upset them; skills that Neil admires hugely.

It was good enough to earn promotion, to assistant editor of The Scotsman, followed by the deputy editorship of Scotland on Sunday and the editorship of The Scotsman in late 2000. Neil said of Martin at the time: “Iain Martin has proved to be a superb journalist and I am confident that he will take The Scotsman to the next stage of its development.”

But Martin never quite won over his doubters. Has he really justified the promotions he has been given?

His tenure at The Scotsman was largely unsuccessful. Despite some journalistic achievements, including Gethin Chamberlain’s superb coverage of the unfolding humanitarian crisis in Darfur two years ago, The Scotsman’s circulation fell faster than at rival papers, most notably,
The Herald. The struggle for sales hastened The Scotsman’s launch of a compact edition, following The Independent, also two years ago. Circulation initially held up but Martin was removed from the editorship, taking up the reins at Scotland on Sunday in November that year. At SoS, many believe Martin coped better than when he was responsible for six papers a week. In his defence, The Scotsman’s journalism has rarely, if ever, excited since. The paper’s lack of gongs at this year’s Scottish Press Awards proves the point.

Johnston Press’s acquisition of Scotsman Publications in January this year all but ensured Martin’s departure. If it was ever in doubt, his decision to “do-in” MSP, Brian Monteith, by publishing private e-mails, including comments about the then Scottish Tory leader, David McLetchie, sped the process. Martin lost the respect of many journalists for doing so but, arguably, no-one who mattered.

Since joining The Sunday Telegraph as assistant editor in May, Martin has settled into a role that sees him take a guiding hand in news, write a column and contribute to shaping the entire newspaper.

His elevation to the deputy editorship will not surprise anyone who knows him. Martin is a formidable operator who has the ability to captivate and aggravate in equal measure. He is charming, has superb news instincts and has the confidence and presence to leave those he
meets in no doubt of his capacity for robust debate. Importantly, for an editor, he can inspire admiration and hatred at the same time. He has high standards and people respond to his demands.

Crucially, yesterday’s appointment underlines that Martin remains a favoured figure among the Barclay Brothers. Until this year, Martin had never worked in Fleet Street. Within six months, he is now deputy editor of a national newspaper. Doubters will say that Neil played a part in
that but such an outcome is unlikely. Contrary to what many say, Neil does not live his life wondering what the Telegraph Group is up to. He is too busy with his television career to find the time.

And for all the history of their undoubtedly close relationship, Martin, despite his fast climb up the ladder, knows one thing. He will never out do Neil’s speedy progression to the editorship of a national newspaper – at 35, Martin is one year older than Neil was when he was made editor of The Sunday Times in 1982. On current form, no Scot comes close to matching Martin’s prospects of becoming a national newspaper editor. And no-one with any sense would bet against him doing so.

By a former colleague of Iain Martin. Name withheld.

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