My Big Break: Graham Martin, news editor, Third Force News

GRAHAM Martin has just begun as news editor of Third Force News, the newspaper of the Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations. He was previously assistant editor of the Kirkintilloch Herald and ‘Kirky’ sister title, the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald.

When did working in the media first start becoming an ambition?

Reading Smash Hits as a very impressionable youngster, before moving onto the NME and reading people like the late, great Steven Wells. The first time I ever saw my name in print was in the NME’s letters page. It was a letter about Morrissey – those who know me will not be surprised about this.

The buzz I got out of seeing ‘Graham Martin, Hamilton’ on the end of some snotty missive – about the drummer from Orange Juice and a lyric – gave me a buzz I think I’m still on.

At school, I self-produced a magazine called, for reasons that now escape me, Kettle, which was basically regurgitated bits of the old Monty Python books (‘Three reasons why Bananarama are different from trees’) and awful reviews of Fall albums. It was cut and pasted together and photocopied at Hamilton Library and stapled together. I think I shifted five copies during the three-edition run.

I studied journalism at Bell College, still aiming for the NME. Within two years. I was covering Inchinnan Community Council’s deliberations on where a bus stop should be placed.

Describe how your career unfolded between your first media job and where you are now.

I’ve had a pretty eventful run – I used to like moving about and there was a time ,’til not that long ago, that there was space for movement in the industry. People moved fairly freely and you’d always hear of jobs going and could chase them.

My first proper newspaper job was on the Paisley and Renfrewshire Gazette series, doing the now defunct Renfrew and Erskine Gazette. That was a steep, steep learning curve, but one for which I am very thankful. It was what a proper first start should be – learning the ropes doing community council (a brilliant way of working up your first set of real contacts and learning how to use them) and ‘proper’ council meetings, covering the district and sheriff courts, doing a wee bit of sport and loads of off-diary stuff. The friends I made then – including Maryanne McIntyre, Lucy Janes, Jackie Copleton and Val McEwan, all still in the industry – are some of my best pals still.

I moved onto the Clydebank Post which I thought had better prospects – and it did. This was a period when you could put on sales and during my time there – under the editorship of Graham Crawford – we doubled the sales from 6,000 to 12,000. That was a talented group – including Stella Cairns, now with The Sun, the BBC’s Mark Daly, one of the UK’s finest journalists, and the brilliant freelance photographer, Kenny Anderson.

I followed my partner down to London and, after a miserable stint at the Slough Observer, I quickly got a move into London proper, at the Hornsey Journal series. That was a good time – and a real eye opener. We covered Tottenham and shootings were practically getting filed as nibs, they were so common. Being based in Crouch End, there were also plenty of north London celebs around, so I could scratch the NME itch a bit – I got exclusive interviews with Suede’s Bernard Butler and Gem Archer of Oasis just by bumping into them while out for a sandwich. It was a good team at the Journal, including news editor, Graeme Patfield, and Alison Campsie – recently of The Herald, now on the desk at the P&J.

Moving to England was instructive as you had to learn a whole new education, local government and court system. I remember being bewildered in a mags court, wishing I was back at Renfrew District Court, with its speeding and street-pissing fines. But you learn – which is always good for you.

I followed my partner back up to Glasgow, and managed to blag my way into the Daily Record. That was another eye-opener – I was only there for a year, but I learnt more in that period than at any other time. It wasn’t the easiest period for me, but you’re always learning. There were some great people in Central Quay who I still look up to. And there were also some… others – but those stories are best left for the pub.

I moved onto the Big Issue In Scotland, which suited me better, politically, and gave me a chance to write more expansively, while building a whole new set of contacts.

I managed to get in as the news editor of the start-up Scottish Standard, which was a great… er, nine weeks. We had one of the most talented journalism teams I have ever worked with, from editor downwards. But I should have known the way things were going when I had to recruit a circulation manager myself – three weeks after the first edition had come out.

I was freelance from there, working at the Scottish Mirror just before the plug was pulled on it (do you see a pattern?) and then the Paisley Daily Express and Third Force News, where I got to know many of the brilliant people I will now be working with.

I was asked to come into the Greenock Telegraph and became news editor, revamping the news desk and appointing a deputy – the excellent Ewan Fergus, recently of the Evening Times. That was possibly the most talented team I’ve worked with – from the subs bench down, they were all brilliant, and many of them are still there. I saw one edition recently which had about a week’s worth of splashes for any other paper in one edition. Special mention must go chief photographer, George Munro – an Inverclyde legend and one of the best in the business.

I was looking for something closer to home as my eldest started school and I got into the Milngavie and Bearsden Herald as deputy editor, latterly being the assistant editor at that title and the Kirky Herald. I’m full of admiration for how the team there are managing to cope with the scale of cut-backs and changes which have taken place recently.

Any particularly big breaks along the way?

None really – though I got lucky when a Big Brother story landed in my lap from an old school pal. It’s maybe hard to remember now, but this was in 2005 when Big Brother was still a major deal. Working with Shaun Milne, the assistant editor of the Scottish Mirror, we knocked together a nice wee series of exclusives which were both fairly lucrative and good fun to do.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

The aforementioned Shaun Milne – now at STV and approaching venerable status in the Scottish media – someone I’ve known since before my journalism days. Also, I’ve been an NUJ member and activist since day one and Scottish organiser, Paul Holleran, has been a constant source of help. He does an amazing, often thankless job and he doesn’t get the credit he deserves sometimes. Thanks also to Jim Cameron at The Extra for all the drink I’ve bought him over the years.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you started?

That I should have learnt to drive before my late 30s and that I should have enjoyed myself (even) more when the going was good, before the crisis struck the industry. Also, the time I slipped on a dog shit and fell down a hill while covering a flooding story, in front of the rest of the assembled hacks. I’d say to myself: “Graham – don’t go up that hill. You’ll slip on a dog shit. People will laugh.”