What lies behind DC Thomson’s success at the Scottish Press Awards?

Some of the DC Thomson team on what was a very memorable night at the Scottish Press Awards

DC Thomson’s news brands, stories and journalists swept the board at the annual Scottish Press Awards, with editor-in-chief Frank O’Donnell saying it reflected the digital transformation the business has undergone in the last two years.

In a ceremony held in Glasgow, DC Thomson won almost a third of prizes, including some of the biggest of the night. The Press and Journal won the prestigious Daily Newspaper of the Year Award, The Sunday Post was named the Sunday Newspaper of the Year and The Courier scooped the award for News Website of the Year.

The chair of judges said: “In another year of pressure for independent news publishing, The Press and Journal was ambitious in tackling the challenges head on, radically shaking up the way its newsroom operated, and strengthening the relevance and quality of its editorial content.

“The Sunday Post has continued to evolve in both tone and content whilst remaining ever true to its original roots as a family newspaper. Every week the title delivers a formidable package of hard-hitting exclusives, campaigning vigour, engaging features and confident news coverage.”

Frank O’Donnell, centre, collects the newspaper of the year award

On picking up the prize for Daily Newspaper of the Year, P&J editor-in-chief Frank O’Donnell said: “The rest of Scotland now knows what P&J readers have known for generations — this is our country’s very best newspaper.

“But this award is in particular a timely recognition of the way we have built on centuries of experience over the last 18 months to create a news product that delivers everything modern readers want.

“As a team, we have decisively shown that there does not have to be a choice between producing top-quality online news and the sort of daily print product our communities have come to know and love.”

Writing on LinkedIn, Frank shared some of the submission his team submitted to the Press Awards.

He wrote: “Scotland’s Newspaper of the Year is often awarded to the title which breaks the biggest story of the previous 12 months.

“And while this is understandable and important, there are other criteria by which we may score a successful modern media brand.

“Our industry remains under pressure, with newsrooms facing continuing pressure to cut costs, particularly with paper and energy costs soaring.

“So, which title is genuinely doing things differently and innovating on content? Which title is investing in staff and increasing its journalist numbers? Which title is rapidly improving its digital products to prioritise, not advertising, but the best user experience?

“Which title is rapidly growing its subscription revenue and finding a path that others in journalism can follow? The clear answer is The Press and Journal.

“This was part of my pitch to the judges at the Scottish Press Awards.

“Awards are always fun, but this one was really special.

“This wasn’t about one story, or one reporter who excelled.

“This was a recognition of an ongoing journalistic revolution which began before lockdown and has resulted in the transformation of a 275-year-old print brand into an audience-focused, digitally-led newsroom.

“Every person has a new role, journalists were hired, fresh roles created, processes and rhythms changed. We have a new website and a re-stated mission and purpose to serve our communities.

“And we have shown that print still has a place — we remain the biggest selling regional newspaper in the UK.

“Thank you to all of my team and our columnists and contributors, and to the scores of people who support the work at DC Thomson, and our sister paper The Courier, in digital product, audience, social media, AV, data, content development, events, marketing, comms, HR, skills and innovation, print production, newspaper sales, dispatch, Discovery print, and to the dozens of young people who are part of our Home Delivery Network.

“And, of course, to our readers, who have responded to the change by seeing the value of a subscription. Every story starts with you.”

The awards kept coming on the night.

The Courier’s website stood out for judges by “choosing to reject clickbait in favour of in-depth features and hard-hitting investigations”. Editor David Clegg said: “This award reflects the hard work, talent and dedication of every single member of the team. From a traditional newsroom, we have transformed into a modern, dynamic, truly agile digital-first operation.

“This success comes down to every content creator, digital content producer, AV expert, digital developer, audience insight specialist and social media expert. Throughout a period of extraordinary change The Courier had flourished because of one constant — high quality journalism rooted in its community.”

The Sunday Post’s chief reporter Marion Scott won Reporter of the Year and the Nicola Barry Award for a series of important, campaigning stories. Editor Jim Wilson said: “Marion is already a legend in Scottish journalism but retains her passion for telling stories that matter. She’s an inspiration.”

The P&J’s Neil Drysdale was named one of the best in the country for his feature writing in the local and weekly category. His award-winning work looks back on a shocking murder in Aberdeen from 60 years ago and the story of a young girl who fled the Nazis in Austria and ended up in the north-east.

The P&J’s Environment and Transport team led by Kieran Beattie and Philippa Gerrard scooped the award for Campaign of the Year for Beach Clean Champions.

Catherine Deveney won the title of Columnist of the Year for her opinion pieces in the P&J, with her entries exploring topics such as the gender pay gap and harassment of schoolgirls.

The Local/weekly Reporter award was won by Sean O’Neil from the Impact team (which works across the P&J and The Courier) for his in-depth investigative work, including Missing from The Broch — the P&J’s documentary exploring the disappearance of Shaun Ritchie.

DC Thomson’s podcast The Stooshie, featuring reporters from the P&J and The Courier, was named Podcast of the Year for its weekly insights and analysis on everything to do with Scottish politics.

The Sunday Post was named runner-up in three categories — Front Page of the Year, Journalism Team of the year for its COP26 coverage and Campaign of the Year for Shaming, a campaign demanding justice for two victims of male violence against women.

P&J obituaries writer Lindsay Bruce was announced as runner up in the Specialist Reporter of the Year category for her sensitive and heartfelt work, including her interview with the mother of Banchory graduate Darren Forest who died just six days after his cancer diagnosis.

Runner up in the Local/weekly Reporter award category was Impact journalist Dale Haslam who explored the untold stories of Trump at Menie in a series of five articles as part of his entry.

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