My big break: Mike Collins, former editor, The Northern Scot

FORMER editor of The Northern Scot newspaper, Mike Collins, is to to receive the ‘lifetime achievement’ Barron Trophy at the upcoming Highlands and Islands Media Awards.

Here, he looks back at a career that includes The Northern Scot being named, in 2011, the title of ‘UK Society of Editors’ Weekly Newspaper of the Year (circulation under 20,000)’…

When did working in the media become an ambition?

I was always interested in news and newspapers, but sort of stumbled into the profession from school, starting with a pre-entry year’s course in journalism at the then Sighthill College in Edinburgh. That was me, hooked.

What was your first media job?

Working on the Banffshire Herald in my home town of Keith, in a two-man editorial team.

The editor, Jim Banks, persuaded me to join on leaving college in 1973 but I said it might only be for a few weeks as I intended getting a job elsewhere.

I found out the reason for his keenness to get me on board was that he was going on holiday in a fortnight’s time and I was left in charge on my own for a fortnight. Panic stations, but I survived and stayed for seven years.

Describe briefly how your career unfolded.

I served my two-year reporter apprenticeship at Keith and sister paper, the Huntly Express, then I persuaded the owner to let me go back to Keith as editor, with Jim Banks leaving.

I did it as an one-man operation while also freelancing, working often seven days a week, until 1985 when I moved to The Press and Journal in Aberdeen as a sub-editor.

I returned to Moray, to The Northern Scot in Elgin, the following year as news editor/reporter/sub-editor, and graduated to being group chief-sub – working also on the Forres Gazette, Banffshire Journal, and Strathspey and Badenoch Herald  – then deputy editor/chief sub of ‘the Scot’.

I was appointed editor of The Northern Scot in 2007, and took redundancy as part of a restructuring in November, 2017.

Any particular big breaks along the way?

Running a small newspaper singled-handed, as editor/reporter and sub, was a huge learning curve, giving me all-round abilities that stood me in good stead throughout my career .

Having a spell at The Press and Journal was another important experience, but my heart was always in weekly newspapers, and their place in communities, and joining The Northern Scot, which for many years was the fourth top-selling weekly in Scotland, was a big break.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

My first editor, Jim Banks, a former daily newspaper man who honed all the basic abilities for reporting and subbing in me at a young age.

I could have seen him far enough at times because of his constant corrections, but he was right, and I learned from each and every one of them.

Pauline Taylor, who I succeeded as editor at The Scot, was a first-class journalist but there are others – too many to mention – who, during my 31 years at The Scot, showed great professionalism and commitment, and shared my aim of producing a newspaper that was a strong voice for its readers and supportive of its local communities.

What do you know now that you wish you’d known when you started?

I could say the seismic changes in the newspaper industry, but, on second thoughts, it is better not to have known. From hot metal to the various stages of computerisation and now social media.

Good, in a way, to have seen more power given to journalists over the whole of a newspaper’s production, but lots of fine people lost their jobs over all departments.

There have been sad times, but journalists of today have the responsibility to carry on maintaining high standards in delivering news in a truthful, professional way – while staying at the heart of their communities.