Dundee-based regional newspaper The Courier was named Newspaper of the Year at last week’s Regional Press Awards so Gorkana‘s Josh Gray caught up with its editor, Richard Neville, to find out what he thought secured the top prize for his paper, why the local community remains central to its content and what his plans are for the paper’s 200th anniversary in September.
The Courier won the coveted Newspaper of the Year award (weekly/daily above 20,000 circulation) at the Regional Press Awards last week. What do you think marked your paper out from its competitors?
I suppose it’s the level at which we cover our communities. We still produce four regional editions, sometimes making 40 or so page changes a night. In effect we produce four separate newspapers every night.
Since you joined the newspaper back in 2011 there has been a great deal of transformation in the regional news industry. What has changed at the paper under your editorship and what has stayed the same?
The commitment to the local community has stayed the same, as have the values of trust, respect and fairness. Otherwise we have transformed the title pretty radically over the last four years. First of all we changed format from broadsheet to compact in 2012 and since then we have added in new motoring, homes and what’s on supplements, a stitched and trimmed Saturday magazine and a quarterly business magazine.
We have also expanded the brand by creating a hugely successful Business Awards event and a business breakfast programme. We have also just launched a revamped website and later this year we will be expanding the Saturday magazine and paper, launching a Food and Drink Awards and celebrating our bicentenary with a new book about the paper, its history and how it is produced today.
In a decade in which Scotland has been highly charged by national issues, has it become harder or easier to hone in on items of specific local interest?
I think it has remained the same really. The national debate has run alongside local issues and often formed part of local debate. It has, in the main, been a healthy period in Scottish political life with a noticeable increase in measured debate and discussion.
What are the stories that tend to draw your readership’s attention?
The formula remains the same – anything that makes a big local impact like crimes, accidents and scandals. On top of that there is a growing appetite for the quirky and unconventional stories that have been fuelled by social media. We also see huge responses to videos on our website.
Your paper recently ran the Frank’s Law campaign to raise awareness of dementia in memory of Dundee United player Frank Kopel. How important is a newspaper’s role outside of merely reporting the news?
It’s very important. Frank’s Law was a campaign run by the widow of Frank Kopel, an ex-Dundee United player who suffered from dementia at an early age. The campaign is to extend personal care funding to sufferers below the age of 65. The hard work has been done by Amanda Kopel, but we have done what newspapers should and given a voice to important local campaigners. We support a lot of charities and pressure groups in various causes and I firmly believe that newspaper brands are still the most effective vehicles for getting campaign messages across to the general public and politicians.
How much, if any, of The Courier’s stories are sourced through PR contacts?
Many, many stories are sourced through PR contacts. Sometimes I wish it was fewer but we live in a world where PRs outnumber journalists. We do try to teach our reporters to work with the PR machines but also to talk to real people – it is important that we have a balanced approach to any story we carry.
How would you suggest a PR approach your editorial team to maximise the potential interest and impact of their proposed story?
The best approaches are through our newsdesk and through individual reporters. In my experience nothing beats having individual relationships.
What are your future plans to ensure that The Courier continues to expand its already ample trophy cabinet?
Our year ahead will be dominated by a review of our Saturday product, expanding our new-look website by moving further towards digital first publishing and relocating to our newly refurbished offices back in the centre of Dundee. We are also celebrating the 200th anniversary of The Courier in September, so there is a book to produce and numerous forthcoming supplements and events surrounding that milestone.
Richard was talking to Gorkana’s Josh Gray
The winners of the Regional Press Awards were announced at a ceremony in London last Friday (20 May), with the Journalists’ Charity Award, which this year was won by David Pugh, sponsored by Gorkana.
Below is the full list of winners:
Young Journalist of the Year
Winner: Sophie Prideaux, Bristol Post
Highly Commended: Rob Golledge, Express & Star, Wolverhampton
Business and Finance Journalist of the Year
Winner: Simon Bain, The Herald, Glasgow
Highly Commended: Robin Johnson, Derby Telegraph
Specialist Writer of the Year
Winner: Jeanette Oldham, Birmingham Mail
Highly Commended: Martin George, Eastern Daily Press
Feature Writer of the Year
Winner: Lee Marlow, Leicester Mercury
Highly Commended: Zoe Chamberlain, Birmingham Mail
Columnist of the Year
Winner: Ericka Waller, The Argus, Brighton
Highly Commended: Carolyn Hitt, Western Mail
Highly Commended: Catriona Stewart, The Herald, Glasgow
Weekly Sports Journalist of the Year
Winner: Dave Evans, Newham Recorder
Highly Commended: Jon Colman, The Cumberland News
Daily/Sunday Sports Journalist of the Year
Winner: Carolyn Hitt, Western Mail
Highly Commended: James Pearce, Liverpool Echo
Highly Commended: Suzanne Geldard, Lancashire Telegraph
Weekly Reporter of the Year
Winner: Gareth Davies, Croydon Advertiser
Highly Commended: Ruby Kitchen, Harrogate Advertiser
Highly Commended: William McLennan, Camden New Journal
Daily/Sunday Reporter of the Year
Winner: Jeanette Oldham, Birmingham Mail
Highly Commended: Sophie Doughty, Newcastle Evening Chronicle
Weekly Photographer of the Year
Winner: Michael Gillen, The Falkirk Herald
Highly Commended: Mark Williamson, Stratford-upon-Avon Herald
Daily/Sunday Photographer of the Year
Winner: Kris Miller, The Courier, Dundee
Highly Commended: Jon Lewis, Oxford Mail
Highly Commended: Rob Lock, Lancashire Evening Post
Designer of the Year
Winner: Kathryn Clarke-Mcleod, Western Morning News
Highly Commended: Sian David, Bath Chronicle
Highly Commended: David Lewins, Bristol Post
Supplement of the Year
Winner: Scotland’s 100 Iconic Moments, Sunday Post
Highly Commended: The Way We Were, The Sentinel
Website of the Year
Winner: www.belfasttelegraph.co.uk, Belfast Telegraph
Highly Commended: www.chroniclelive.co.uk, Newcastle Evening Chronicle
Highly Commended: www.dailyecho.co.uk, Southern Daily Echo
The Digital Award
Winner: Trinity Mirror Data Unit
Highly Commended: Hillsborough Inquests, Liverpool Echo
Highly Commended: Pink Un Interactive, Eastern Daily Press
Front Page of the Year
Winner: Thanks Andy, West Briton
Highly Commended: Decency 1 Hatred 0, Newcastle Evening Chronicle
Scoop of the Year
Winner: Shameful, Sophie Doughty, Newcastle Evening Chronicle
Highly Commended: North Sea Gets £1bn vote of confidence, Rita Brown, The Press and Journal, Aberdeen
The Journalists’ Charity Award
Winner: David Pugh
Winner: Hillsborough, 27 Year Fight for Truth, Liverpool Echo
Campaign of the Year
Winner: One in Eight, Hereford Times
Highly Commended: Kids in Crisis, Hull Daily Mail
Highly Commended: Pay up Now, Camden New Journal
Making a Difference
Frank’s Law campaign, The Dundee Courier and Advertiser
Weekly Newspaper (below 20,000)
Winner: The Cumberland News
Highly Commended: Essex Chronicle
Highly Commended: The Scarborough News
Weekly Newspaper (above 20,000)
Winner: Kent Messenger
Highly Commended: Camden New Journal
Highly Commended: The Westmorland Gazette
Daily/Sunday Newspaper (below 20,000)
Winner: The Press, York
Highly Commended: News & Star, Carlisle
Daily/Sunday Newspaper (above 20,000)
Winner: The Courier, Dundee
Highly Commended: Express & Star, Wolverhampton