My Media Day: Gavin Musgrove, editor, Strathspey & Badenoch Herald

GAVIN Musgrove is editor of the Strathspey & Badenoch Herald, known locally as the ‘Strathy’, covering Aviemore, Kingussie, Grantown, Newtonmore, Kincraig, Laggan, Dalwhinnie, Boat of Garten, Laggan, Carrbridge, Cromdale and Nethy Bridge.

He has been editor since 2000, having previously worked at the Inverness office of The Press and Journal.

Before his spell with the P&J, he was three years a reporter at the Strathy “despite thinking aloud in my interview that shinty was a form of religion practised in Japan”.

He submitted this on Friday, November 1.

What exactly is it that you do?

I’m the editor of the Strathy, part of the Scottish Provincial Press group, which includes the Inverness Courier, Highland News and Elgin-based Northern Scot and a fair few other smaller titles proudly serving their communities across the mainland of the Highlands.

We are the southern-most outpost of the SPP empire which is quite handy being a Newcastle footy fan, which means that at least I don’t have to start the long haul from Wick to endure the misery at St James Park when I make my occasional excursions into my native North East.

We have a reporting staff of just two – myself, based in Grantown, and Tom Ramage, in our Kingussie office, along with our go-to freelance photographer, sales staff and a fantastic army of contributors and column writers. Our subs are based in SPP’s Inverness headquarters.

My job is to bring this altogether as smoothly as possible every week and deliver the paper – usually 64 pages – hitting our daily Monday-to-Friday deadlines en-route, as well as running our website, Facebook site and tweeting. There’s some remote home-working too which no doubt many other teams on small titles will be more than familiar with.

What did your working day today or yesterday comprise?

We took the Strathy from broadsheet to compact in May, last year, and at the same time took the opportunity to move the publication day to a Thursday from Wednesday. This has eased a fair amount of the stress, if not the long hours; previously, myself and the reporter worked every Monday night until 11pm even in the worst of the winter which can be pretty bad up here in the Cairngorms – to hit the press and quite often that was not time enough.

Now I aim to be out of the office by 6.30pm on Monday and Tuesday and continue the efforts at home after saying a brief ‘hello’ to my wife and three kids. This means that, come Wednesday, we are just about in control.

We are set down for a maximum of seven pages on deadline day but the reality is that, if we are nine or below, then we are on target.

Naturally, we keep our bigger stories for the front of the paper and invariably some of these are still a work in progress, but there could also be some features to finish such as our Strathy People (a double spread of community faces), business, Letters to the editor, and at least one sports page.

As is the way of the newspaper world, there are delays with copy coming in from contributors or just finding that ’round peg to fill that round hole’ to get a page away without compromising quality – it can be an infuriating business and most weeks there is some kind of a balance to be found as the clock ticks down.

We battle on gamely. Copy comes in from Tom which I check over and fortunately he’s an excellent, accurate and experienced – not to mention fast-paced – reporter which is invaluable when there is such a heavy workload. As well as finishing my own work, I need to assign copy to pages and flag up to our subs when pages are ready for them to work on. Likewise, PDF proofs come through from them on a constant basis – more constant on deadline day – to be signed off.

Our absolute deadline is 3pm and the off-stone time is 5pm. I have grace for a leader until 3.30pm. In among all of this, deadline duties include writing a leader or checking Tom’s editorial piece if I have thrust the responsibility upon him due to time pressures. I need to complete the page one and back page puff, front page strap, page two index, file weather and roadworks for our information panel on page four, answer subs queries and upload three stories to our web for that day.

It can be like juggling ten balls at a time, with the clock counting down. In reality, I can only juggle three items – usually apples and oranges – for about seven seconds.

How different or similar is your average working day to when you started?

I started with the Strathy in August 1996 – just after the football European Championships in England and when Newcastle had signed Alan Shearer. I was waiting to hear back from one of two potential job offers – it was either Aviemore or Driffield. Fortunately, Ken Smith, then Strathy editor, called 30 minutes after my cousin, Mal, had broken the Toon news; so it was a pretty good day, all in all – England’s number one in the bag and my first salaried job.

I can still remember entering the office at Kingussie and wondering what the heck I had gotten myself into. It was not how I expected a busy newsroom to be (or a quieter one for that matter). It was pretty empty, with some dodgy furniture and badly in need of a lick of paint. These were also, of course, the days before internet and social media – well, for local papers in the Highlands.

Emails in particular have changed the way in which we work enormously and are both a curse and a blessing. I don’t miss trying to decipher handwritten notes and stories; I recall some of the contributors’ prose was more Dickensian than Dickens himself.

Neither do I miss waiting for the return of that all-important phone call to finish and file a story. It’s easier now than ever before to be working on a large number of stories at the same time. There were less work pressures, however, with fewer demands on time. No web, no Twitter, no Facebook.

In addition, I was reporter, so did not have the extra responsibilities or feel obliged to carry the can. Writing this, I’ve finally realised why I have gone grey prematurely (although I would argue, silver).

How do you see your job evolving?

More of the same: more to do, more readership markets to cater for but with diminishing resources and probably returns (at least in the print form). At times, it can seem like being on a hamster’s wheel that’s spinning ever faster.

What gives you the most job satisfaction?

The whole job is satisfying, which is why I do not lie awake at night dreading the above. To start with nothing or very little at the beginning of the newspaper week and have a product to show in your hand at the end of it every week – via all the ups and downs in between – is a great feeling.

And it’s even better if there’s a great splash on the front to get the readers talking and, from my point of view, no niggling little errors or lay-out issues that you failed to spot in the proofs.

I shouldn’t beat myself over these, bearing in mind the amount of ground we cover, but I’m sure many others know that feeling too. To be so close.

Although, professionally, I think you still can’t beat that feeling of seeing and holding the paper for the first time in print – even when you know all the content, backwards.

I consider myself very lucky to be part of a small team of great people who take pride in what they do, plus getting the chance to meet some great people – some famous but most not.