Founder of Scotland on Sunday Alastair Stuart has died aged 89

Alastair Stuart, CBE, one of the champions of quality regional journalism as editorial director of Thomson Regional Newpapers and the launch editor of Scotland on Sunday, died after a short illness on Friday evening, 4 March, at the age of 89.

As editor-in-chief and then editorial director of Thomson Regional Newspapers, then one of the largest newspaper groups in the UK, he was in charge of policy and strategy for numerous daily and weekly titles including the Belfast Telegraph, Western Mail and Echo, Newcastle Journal and Chronicle as well as Scotsman Publications.

Later in his career, he combined that role with helping to launch Scotland on Sunday in 1988, the first up-market Sunday publication devoted entirely to Scottish affairs, which meant a move back to his native Edinburgh after more than 20 years working in London.

This role also saw him take on a leading role in the D-Notice committee [now the DSMA, Defence and Security Media Advisory committee] where he was vice chairman of the committee and chairman of the media panel from 1989 to 1997.

Causes he fought included resisting government attempts to include tackling crime under terrorist restrictions and the drive to open the security services to more public scrutiny. When he started, the name of the heads of MI5 and MI6 were classified as secrets, now not only are they in the public domain but they give interviews.

He had always had a widely travelled professional life, working in newspapers in Kenya and Nigeria before returning to Scotland, and quickly moving south to take charge of the London office of the Scotsman.

When TRN decided to amalgamate the London operations of all their papers into a single entity, he was asked to run it, first as editor in chief and then as editorial director where he took charge of the day-to-day running of the London operation serving all the groups papers but also the long-term direction of the industry as it moved into the computer age.

Other prominent roles included being chairman of the Caledonian Club in London and prominent positions with the Newspaper Society.  Scotland on Sunday, his brainchild and his creation, was closely followed by Wales on Sunday a few months later, remains one of his most prominent legacies to the journalism industry. 

Born in Edinburgh in 1927, he won a scholarship to George Heriot's School and there was never any doubt in his mind that he was always going to follow the footsteps of his own father, who had died in 1928, into newspapers.

After National Service and completing his degree at Edinburgh University, his first full-time job was as a sub-editor on the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch where he also helped produce the paper's coverage of the Edinburgh Festival.

Today's Scotsman included the following tributes. Magnus Linklater, editor of The Scotsman when SoS was launched, said: “I trusted his judgment greatly.

“He was a wise old bird. He knew journalism extremely well and knew Scotland even better.“

Brian Groom, who was Mr Stuart’s deputy at SoS before later becoming editor, said: “He was courteous and kind, but never tolerated woolly thinking or sloppy writing.

“It was a privilege to work with Alastair in creating SoS.

“At an age when most people would be thinking of winding down he undertook this adventurous task with dedication, humour and a determination not to be hidebound by conventional thinking.

“We all owe him a debt of gratitude for creating a paper that, over nearly three decades, has produced some of Scotland’s finest journalism.”

John Marquis, who worked with Mr Stuart when he was chief London editor of Thomson Regional Newspapers, said: “He was a very able, astute and charming man who taught me a lot about management.

“He was an excellent judge of character who led the London team with cool efficiency, providing a fine news, sport and features service for a group of around 16 dailies.”

He was a much loved husband, father and grandfather, married to Anne Stuart for 64 years after they met at Edinburgh University. He leaves three children, Catriona, Lewis and Hamish, and four grandchildren, Calum, Shona, Cara and Aidan.

 

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