Journalist and crosswords editor who spent 25 years at The Herald

Born: October 23, 1961;

Died: May 9, 2017

CALUM Macdonald, who has died aged 55, was a journalist and crosswords editor who spent most of his career at The Herald. As a reporter, Night News Editor, Digital Editor for the Herald & Times group and as Group News Editor – the job he loved the most – he was an intrinsic part of the newspaper for 25 years.

He was respected and admired by colleagues for his quick intelligence, decisiveness, cool head under pressure and capacity for sheer hard work.

During the frenzy of election or referendum night, and during big breaking news stories, such as 9/11 or the invasion of Iraq, Calum was always to be found sitting at the newsdesk, the calm at the eye of the storm, relaxed but entirely in control, coordinating teams of writers and reporters; for them, Calum was a thoroughly dependable colleague who inspired confidence.

Calum was prominent among those long-serving journalists who provided continuity against a backdrop of organisational change, embodying The Herald’s values of editorial independence, fairness in the reporting of news and a commitment to high standards. As Group Digital Editor for four years, he brought strict standards of courtesy and fairness to the online forum, never shrinking from enforcing them but always taking the time to explain to users who had infringed the rules, why their behaviour was unacceptable. This ensured that both before and after the 2014 independence referendum, The Herald & Times online forum was a site of impassioned but meaningful debate.

He championed young journalists both in his senior roles at the Herald & Times and, after leaving the group in 2015, with his new venture, the news website Positively Scottish.

Calum Macdonald was born and brought up in Aberdeen, attending Ashley Road Primary School and Aberdeen Grammar. He came from a line of journalists: his grandfather started a local paper in Buckie while his father, Alastair, was a sports writer at the Press & Journal, specialising in football.

Calum’s mother Elizabeth (nee Mitchell), a graduate in maths and moral philosophy at Aberdeen University, was a school teacher before having a family.

Calum, the eldest of three, had a flair for English at secondary school. He played cricket and football (he was goalkeeper in the school team), and did stage management in the drama club, an early sign of his talent for organising. His involvement in amateur theatre continued at Aberdeen University, where he studied psychology, and English language and literature. Theatre and books were lasting passions, his favourite authors being John Irving, Iain Banks, William Boyd and Ian Rankin.

After graduating in 1983, he was accepted onto the Thomson Regional Newspaper trainee scheme, at the end of which he was described as “a confident young man of ability and good humour who would be an asset to any news team”. He made a group of lifelong friends during training and at his first job on the P&J, where he remained for seven years, during which time he was instrumental in helping re-establish the Grampian Press Ball and set up the Highland Press Ball. He met his future wife, fellow reporter Christine Jardine, in 1985, and they married in February 1987 at Glasgow University chapel. Their daughter, Mhairi, was born in 1996.

In 1990, the “confident young man of ability” was encouraged to apply to The Herald by the paper’s then education correspondent, Barclay McBain (now executive editor), who had met him during a press trip to West Germany. Starting as a reporter in Glasgow, he soon joined the newsdesk, moving on to be Night News Editor.

Calum loved being at the middle of a breaking story but not, like some reporters, at the scene of the action – he preferred to be back in the office, coordinating the coverage, bringing to bear his considerable flair for logistics. So well suited was he to the notoriously high pressure job of news editor that Calum did not find it at all stressful.

He was always clear in his opinions and priorities, and reporters appreciated his straight answers when offering story suggestions. Occasionally on the newsdesk and later, his strong opinions led to confrontations with colleagues, but they typically blew over quickly.

He was a first class editor, with a particular knack for coming up with the perfect introduction. This reflected his fascination with the English language. On the P&J, he and colleagues had a competition to see who could come up with the most obscure word in an introduction, a word the sub editors would have to leave in because there was no appropriate alternative. Calum won, appropriately enough, with “ineluctably”.

A crossword buff, not long after joining The Herald, he started setting them. The task came easily to him and he became a regular compiler and then crosswords editor for The Herald, Sunday Herald and The National, as well as editing two books of crosswords; he continued editing crosswords on a freelance basis after leaving the paper. He and Christine ran their own company for a time, producing personalised crosswords. The couple separated latterly, but remained close.

His most recent venture, Positively Scottish, grew out of a desire to counter what he felt was a disappointing excess of negativity in Scottish news journalism. The not-for-profit website sets out to tell positive stories and Calum was proud to employ many young freelance journalists fresh out of training. He did this alongside tutoring student journalists at Strathclyde University.

Outside of work, Calum Macdonald was a loyal friend and a very proud father. He fostered in Mhairi a love of books, encouraging her by reading the first Harry Potter book to her. They read the next one together before Mhairi started reading them herself. Father and daughter would always go together at midnight the day the latest instalment was released, to buy their copy. The very last book came out during a family holiday in Portmahomack; on that occasion, Calum and Mhairi drove to a small bookshop in Tain to collect it.

The two things that mattered most to Calum were Mhairi and protecting the future of quality journalism.

He is survived by Christine, the Liberal Democrat general election candidate in Edinburgh West, Mhairi, a politics student at the university of Edinburgh, and his twin sisters, Morag and Shona.