My Big Break: Catriona MacInnes, editor, The Courier

LAST month, it was announced that Catriona MacInnes, editor of Dundee-based newspaper, The Courier, was retiring from the role. Catriona, who has held the position of editor since summer 2017, will be leaving this autumn.

Having made history as the first female editor of The Courier, Catriona has been with the paper’s publishers, DC Thomson Media, for more than 30 years, working across a number of the company’s brands.

When did working in the media become an ambition?

Reading became a passion from an early age and I devoured Enid Blyton books (The Magic Faraway Tree is still one of my favourites); I was that child who, when the light went out, reached for her trusty torch and carried on reading until it was later than late.

However, it was in Primary six that I got the writing bug. My fabulous teacher, Miss Chapman, read to us each Friday afternoon and I fell in love with Alistair MacLean stories and wanted to pen my own tales of derring-do.

My first attempt, titled The Blue Lamp, was about drug smuggling. What the ten year-old me knew about drugs meant it was a very short story, but it was punchy!

It was the start of my plan to become a journalist, or a teacher, but that’s another story.

 What was your first media job?

I walked through the doors of DC Thomson 34 years ago and went to work in the Fiction Department where I read manuscripts all day and either sent rejection letters or passed them over to title editors for their consideration.

I also wrote horoscopes; it was the Fiction Department. That sort of thing does not happen nowadays.

I was only there for a matter of weeks when Dave McColl, the editor of Annabel magazine (a national monthly magazine for women), asked me to come and work on his title as a trainee journalist.

Describe briefly how your career unfolded

I have spent my career with DC Thomson; my formative years were on Annabel magazine where I was fashion editor, assistant editor and then editor. I worked alongside a great team and made some life-long friends.

Next step was over to teen magazine, Catch, where I handled beauty and PR; that was fun and I travelled up and down the country meeting young adults and discussing issues of the day.

However, by then I was in my 30s and I began to feel too old to talk about the angsts of the teenage years – if only I’d know that they return when you hit 50, I may have paid more attention to the experts.

In the early 90s, I moved over to The Courier to take up the role of deputy features editor. I found my spiritual home and the paper became my passion.

Any particular big breaks along the way?

Becoming the fashion editor on Annabel was a pivotal moment. It allowed me to set my own agenda for the section pages of the magazine and work with some fantastic people within the fashion and beauty industry.

Much of the work took me to London on shoots and I learned, very quickly, how to put together a fashion story and how to style a front cover. It’s a great feeling the first time you see your vision translate from a storyboard to the magazines shelves.

I had some great teachers and I believe the most important lesson I took from that chapter of my career was that words and pictures are powerful but they work best in a clean and clear set of design principles.

Who would you like to thank more than most?

That’s a tricky one.

So many have influenced my thinking and opened my mind to new ideas that it’s difficult to choose. Allow me to mention two.

The late and great Dave McColl was my first editor and he saw something in the twenty-something me that had promise. He encouraged me to be the best version of myself; he pushed me and argued with me, but he always supported me and that allowed me stretch my wings and begin to form my style as a journalist.

My other great mentor has been Richard Neville, the now head of Newspapers at DC Thomson Media; he believed in me and allowed me to be creative within the pages of The Courier. He also gave me the gift of the editor’s chair and for that, I will be forever grateful.

Having the editorship of The Courier is the greatest privilege of my working life.

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

If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck then, in all probability, it’s a duck.

In working life, you meet all sorts, the good the bad and the unexpected.

But the most important person to listen to is you; listen to your inner voice and never compromise your integrity. If it quacks, it’s probably not a unicorn.