It’s unfair to say that it’s Scotland’s first proper news site – Net News Daily and The Daily Dust were both here first (you could even add in the Daily Mash there too) – but it does appear to be the first to generate all of its own news and not just following the topic of the day. The second difference is that while the other sites use younger or training journalists, the CalMerc (sounds like a ferry service for ex-army security services doesn’t it?) is using professional, dyed-in-ink journalists, with the likes of Nick Clayon, Rab McNeill and Jennifer Trueland all submitting copy. It’s headed up by Stewart Kirkpatrick, who is well known as one of Scotland’s top digital editors, so it’s a heavyweight title. It’ll be interesting to hear Stewart’s thoughts on his launch at the Scottish Social Media Dinner on Thursday, but in the meantime, here’s a review of the site.
It’s launched with a strong string of stories: new drug to fight Alzheimer’s, the SNP priorities, a news interview with Kevin Dunion the FOI Commissioner and a bit of SEO gaming with a tale on Robert Burns and sex. For a news site so staffed by ex-Scotsman people, it reads remarkably like the early days of the Jaspan-run Sunday Herald in terms of content choices, which is probably the readership market it’s aiming for – young, affluent, aiming to be upwardly mobile, though the expat market is also being reached out to with the likes of heritage being covered.
The writing style is very Sunday Herald-ish too with a light, almost informal touch, which works for the most. Stylistically, the paper seems to be still finding its feet: in some stories the paper is hyperlinked as the Caledonian Mercury but in others it’s the Caledonian Mercury.
The group of topics covered at launch make sense: news, health, heritage (which will probably cover tourism too) and others.
But there’s three omissions, which I found strange: gaming, energy (including oil) and biotech. Given that Dundee northwards are a hotbed of acclaimed global activity for all three, I’m sure it will only be a matter of time before we get some enterprising reporters putting their services forward for these areas and we can perhaps find the Scottish equivalent of a Kieron Gillen.
In terms of web-savvy, there’s a lack of links – not an absence, just a lack – and again, no doubt this is something that will be smoothed out as all the reporters come to grasp the inhouse style. One thing that is both noteworthy and praiseworthy though is that it links to other papers if it is referencing material from them. Given that the like of the online-arrogant BBC and Guardian still seem to struggle with the simple concept of linking back it’s good to see this. It’s a cornerstone of web2.0 thinking if you ask me.
And while there is a strong side to the print element, there’s a lack of video or audio on the site, but again this may well be something which comes later as features and other items are added. That doesn’t mean the site is lacking in interaction: there’s already an active Twitter account and comments on their site, back by prizes (disclaimer: Contently Managed is promoting Jura whisky and the Diurachs group on Facebook via the CalMerc comments). One other notable omission is the lack of an iPhone app – even something provided by the likes of MotherApp.
(it’s also a site that welcomes contact from PRs – see here for more details.)
It’s a very streamlined blog-style look, broken down by categories and a simple layout. To the side there is a nice widget which has text reflecting popularity of topics and a Google map reflecting where stories are coming from. Even better, there’s a little for putting the news on your site – including blogs and Facebook.
One rather unique little feature is that when in a topic – say Health – and you click on the masthead, instead of being taken back to the front page as you would expect, you get taken to the topic page, showing – in this example – all the health stories. Quirky.
The site appears to be boosted a little by Google Ads, which is fair enough, though the two little ads above the masthead do look a little cheap.
All in all, it’s a good start and a site I’ll drop by once or twice a day to see what’s new. It’s not ready to beat the Daily Record in terms of being an overall digital site, but it’s off to a strong start and what’s up there certainly wipes the floor with what most Scottish papers are offering. Does it deserve to be a success? Hell yes.