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January 8, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 8:46am

Scotsman editor Frank O’Donnell leaves to head up rival title The Press and Journal

By Freddy Mayhew

The Scotsman editor Frank O’Donnell is leaving after 19 years at the title to edit rival Scottish daily The Press and Journal.

O’Donnell also edits the Edinburgh Evening News and Scotland on Sunday at Scotsman owner JPI Media, where he is editorial director for Scotland.

He will leave the publisher in May to start his new role as editor-in-chief of DC Thomson’s Aberdeen titles, providing “editorial vision” for the Evening Express, edited by Craig Walker, alongside editing the Press and Journal.

The Press and Journal, aka the “P&J”, is the UK’s biggest-selling regional daily newspaper with a circulation of 41,700 copies, according to the latest ABC figures.

In a message to staff, seen by Press Gazette, O’Donnell (pictured) said: “I joined The Scotsman in March 2000 and have held 11 different positions over 19 years.

“I am forever thankful for the opportunities and experiences the titles here have given me. I have travelled the world, covered the biggest stories and worked with many of the best journalists in Britain.

“I have made many great friends in my time here and will look back on this period with great fondness and with the certainty that our brands are in stronger shape for a sustainable digital future.”

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Under O’Donnell’s editorship The Scotsman introduced an online paywall. He also helped bolster the title’s political coverage, building a four-strong political reporting team early last year.

The paper rebranded its masthead in 2018 and has a daily circulation of 15,000, according to the latest ABC figures.

JPI Media said under O’Donnell the Edinburgh Evening News “closed out last year as the biggest website in the company and with the best year on year print performance”. It sells 13,000 copies, according to ABC.

A JPI Media spokesperson said: “It is with regret that Frank is leaving the company having been instrumental in improving the performance and stature of The Scotsman portfolio as editor and editorial director.”

JPI Media’s regional newspapers are currently up for sale, with Newsquest understood to be the frontrunner in negotiations. It follows the sale of national daily the i to Daily Mail publisher DMGT for £50m in November.

JPI Media was formed in 2018 by creditors when publisher Johnston Press fell into administration.

A Scotsman editorial source told Press Gazette: “The Scotsman’s digital growth is truly impressive and is the result of a sustained team effort over the last decade.

“It continues to outpace much bigger daily titles in terms of its political, business, sports and arts coverage.

“That’s despite the title still using a website that hardly functions on desktops and often crashes on smartphones – the legacy of JPI Media throwing all of its remaining money at the i, fattening it up for sale.

“But that digital growth masks the day-to-day pressures facing Scotsman editorial staff.

“Demoralised senior reporters who worry how much longer they can survive in a company that places so little value on quality journalism, and younger digital-focused staff who play a huge role in online growth but are paid a pittance for their efforts.

“The Scotsman stands at a crossroads. With a new, responsible owner and moderate investment it could sustain its quality journalism for years to come.

“But if the title is allowed to drift with no editor, and eventually falls into the hands of an uncaring new owner, it could quickly find itself reduced to little more than a website filled with poor quality clickbait.”

JPI Media has said its search for a new editor begins “immediately”.

Before leaving, O’Donnell will oversee the implementation of JPI Media’s Digital Acceleration programme in Scotland which aims to boost web traffic and grow the number of “loyal users” and page views on its websites.

DC Thomson’s head of news, Richard Neville, said O’Donnell would make “a superb addition to the team” and bring “fresh energy” to the P&J in print while “leading the development” of its digital offering.

Pre-tax profits at Scottish publisher DC Thomson fell by three-quarters last year, from £86.4m to £21.1m, according to its latest accounts filed with Companies House, while overall revenues were up for the year.

Picture: Neil Hanna.

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