My Big Break: Jack Mathieson, media and comms officer, Edinburgh Napier University

JACK Mathieson recently took up a post as media and communications officer at Edinburgh Napier University after 26 years in the newspaper industry.

After graduating from Edinburgh University, he began his career as a reporter at the Berwickshire News before moving on to the Paisley Daily Express. From there he went to the Edinburgh Evening News, where he had spells as assistant news editor and chief reporter. From 2000 to 2014, he worked with the Daily Record in Edinburgh prior to accepting a severance package in June.

He told “I had some great fun in the newspaper business but I have had few regrets about moving on. The last few years were exceptionally tough as the industry adjusted to meet the challenges of the digital age against a backdrop of diminishing resources.

“I was ready for a change of environment and there are few places more interesting and stimulating to go to work to in the morning than a university. Seeing the facilities and the range of courses on offer makes me wish I was 18 again.”

When did working in the media become an ambition?

I was a keen reader of an eclectic mix of newspapers from quite a young age – the Sunday Mail and The Observer were both favourites – and I think I always fancied working in the business. When I went to Edinburgh University I wrote about rock music for the student newspaper and indulged my other great passion, for Berwick Rangers Football Club, by sending reports of their away matches to the Tweeddale Press Group. The mid-80s were not a vintage time for the club and I think the reporting staff of the Berwick Advertiser and the Berwickshire News were thrilled to see a keen youngster stepping in and sparing them the dubious pleasures of long weekend trips to the likes of Arbroath, Brechin and Montrose to cover matches.

What was your first ‘media job’?

Possibly out of gratitude for the above, Tweeddale Press offered me a job when I finished at university. I sat my last finals exam on a Friday in June 1988 and started with the Berwickshire News on the Monday. I stayed there for a couple of years and had a great time at what was then a family-run company, covering the agricultural shows and local sport. However, I began to get itchy feet after being sent on training courses to the then Napier Polytechnic. Those of us working on rural weeklies were a little bit in awe of trainees working in bigger towns in the Central Belt who had genuine experience of covering big, hard news stories, and seemed to know all the big-hitters in the national press.

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

After the Berwickshire News, I went to the Paisley Daily Express. I worked mostly on the municipal beat, covering the affairs of the then Renfrew District Council, which was not anywhere near as dull as it sounds. There were some big personalities in the council chambers, and the bitter hostility between the Labour and SNP groups ensured there was always someone willing to whisper details of the latest town hall scandal.

After Paisley, I had six years at the Edinburgh Evening News, including two on the newsdesk. It was hard graft. In those days, the final edition hit the streets at tea-time, not breakfast time, and hard-pressed staff then had to start shifting copy for the following day’s overnight pages, but many firm friendships were forged during boozy evenings in the Jingling Geordie.

I joined the Daily Record’s Edinburgh team in 2000. I worked on desperately sad stories like the murders of Jodi Jones, Rory Blackhall and Vicky Hamilton, but there were also some great jobs. Accompanying the Tartan Army to Amsterdam, and chronicling the adventures of Celtic fans at the UEFA Cup final in Seville, spring to mind. However, the job became increasingly difficult over the last few years with staff reductions culminating in the closure of the Edinburgh office and the remaining reporters working from home.

Any particular big breaks along the way?

My biggest break was probably landing my current job at Edinburgh Napier University. In the current climate, nobody walks away from a job without at least a twinge of anxiety about what the future may hold and on leaving the Record for an extended family holiday in America I promised myself I would start job hunting the day I got back home. I heard about the university job, applied for it just hours after stepping off the plane and was delighted to be offered the post.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

I have over the years enjoyed working with some great writers and great story-getters. Having some experience of the challenges of the news editor’s chair myself at the Evening News, I also admire guys I worked for like David Lee at the News and Kevin Mansi at the Record who have performed the role long-term, with its constant demands for speed and clarity of thought and attention to detail while juggling multiple projects against the clock.

But in truth the people I am most indebted to are the many who helped lighten the load by bringing a little bit of fun and laughter to what could be a tough working environment.

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

Lunch-time drinking does not inspire sparkling copy.