My Big Break: Drew Cochrane, recent former editor, Largs & Millport Weekly News

IN August – as noted here, on – Drew Cochrane took early retirement after 40 years as editor of the Largs & Millport Weekly News, which he joined following a stint as a trainee reporter on his local paper, the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald.

Still with an involvement in newspapers – including as an editorial consultant at Clyde & Forth Press, publishers of the Largs & Millport Weekly News – within weeks of vacating the editor’s chair, he contested a North Ayrshire Council by-election as an independent, losing out narrowly to the SNP candidate whose husband had held the seat up to his death.

He also writes two columns for his former paper, The Editor’s Years, and Cochrane’s Column.

And it doesn’t stop there: he is president of the Largs Players theatre club, a community councillor and chair of a local charitable trust.

When did working in the media become an ambition?

At school, I noticed a class of about 30 girls who did Commercial Studies.

I decided to join them as I didn’t fancy woodwork or technical drawing and it was there that I discovered the joys of… shorthand and typing.

I was thinking of going into teaching, but a vacancy came up in my local paper, the Ardrossan & Saltcoats Herald. As soon as they heard that I could type and do 120 words per minute shorthand I was hired, at the princely sum of £7 a week.

That was in 1969.

What was your first ‘media job’?

From Monday to Thursday, I covered news, sport and features for the paper, and, then on Friday, I attended a NCTJ day-release course at Glasgow College of Commerce, gaining my law, newspaper practice and government proficiency qualifications. If only that was still happening today!

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

At the age of 22, I was told by the then publishers, Johnston Press, that I was being sent to the Largs & Millport Weekly News as editor and they would see what happened after a few years.

Well, I became the ‘editor that time forgot’ because I managed to work for four companies but stayed at the same desk!

I remember the Press Gazette ran a headline in 1974 about me being Britain’s youngest editor, and if I’d stayed a little longer I could have become the country’s oldest!

I oversaw a switch from broadsheet to tabloid, starting off at only 24 pages, but graduating to being either 48 or 56 pages – with fewer staff, of course.

I also surfed the progressive eras from Olivetti typewriter, through word processor to digital page make-up computers.

What was always fulfilling, journalistically, for me was that, like any other area, we had our murders, tragedies, success stories, scandals and human life to write about, and, importantly, I never stopped being my own chief reporter.

If a front page splash, sports story, theatre crit or advertising feature was required at short notice I could do it.

There was a number of times, due to holidays and sickness, when I was an one-man news room.

But, you know, I loved the paper. I really did.

However, I gained satisfaction too from being part of the former Guild of Editors, now the Society of Editors, serving as chair of both and being involved in training, doing a three-year term as chair of the Scottish committee of the National Council for the Training of Journalists and serving on the editors’ national training committee in London.

I was actually one of the first voices of Radio Clyde, being their Junior football man for decades, before moving to Westsound Radio in Ayrshire on a Saturday.

Honestly, despite not being a city slicker, there was never a dull moment in my media career.

Any particular big breaks along the way?

As a believer in synchronicity, my big breaks were, undoubtedly, the school shorthand class, the convenient vacancy at my local paper and being appointed Britain’s youngest editor.

A year later, I won Scotland’s Most Promising Young Journalist award for a series of articles, including a visit to the embryonic European Parliament.

I was then chosen by the Guild of Editors to be their UK scholar at the International Society of Weekly Newspaper Editors, in the USA.

Latterly, I was given world exclusive interviews by record-breaking Euro Lotto winners, Colin and Chris Weir, because they knew and trusted me as the local editor.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

It would have to be my first editor, Archie Wallace, who fast-tracked me; Fred Johnston, who made me editor; and former editorial director, Donald Fullarton, who always encouraged me and supported me at company management level.

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

Believe it or not, I was quite a shy, quiet individual as a young journalist and I wish I’d shown more assurance and confidence.

At various times, I had final interviews for football jobs on national newspapers, and reporting stints for BBC and STV.

However, synchronicity designed that I become the UK’s longest-serving editor.