Mercury rising – but what happens next?

A PROMISING start then for the Caledonian Mercury which claims more than 30,000 unique users in its opening 24-hours of news business. 

Some have lavished praise on the design, others on the intelligent writing, as the Twitterverse and Blogosphere muses on what it all means.

But the biggest triumph in my eyes for Stewart Kirkpatrick and the team involved isn't in the product itself, but the aura around the whole idea.

Yes, it looks nice.  Clean lines and pretty colours, but there are other news websites that look better and are more functional.

It can evolve. After all it doesn't yet have video or podcasts, all the whistles and bells experts tell us every site needs to truly engage audience.

And it hasn't been without it's teething problems which if you look closely, very closely, you can unearth with a casual click of a mouse.

Yet overnight, it has still had 30,000 unique users. Some will be just curious. Others will be from real newspapers, scoffing at the idea, shrugging it off.

But much more than that, it is not just being taken seriously, it has become the news.

Over on BBC Scotland yesterday Newsnicht devoted an entire programme to it, with a package, guests and interviews. 

Media Guardian, AMS, Editor's Weblog and other trade sites of influence gave it more than a passing mention.

And this is the triumph.

From out of nowhere Kirkpatrick and his team have made the industry sit up, take notice and re-evaluate where they are on the web.

Online editor's across the UK must be gnashing their teeth at it all, wondering why they bothered putting in all those late nights and early mornings, when it is the CalMerc front page which is flashed up on the TV screens at the expense of the Herald.

Scotland's first truly online newspaper it is proclaimed as. Actually, it's still a news site, all be it an extremely clever one which gives the illusion of being a newspaper and so immediately makes us all warm to it.

There isn't a dead tree in sight.

But this is where Kirkpatrick is bang on when he borrows the phrase that it is the print product that is broken, not the web.

He understands that to make the web work, you can still take best from the traditional papers and re-present them in a format which, actually, is giving us more readers than we have ever had.

Content remains King, and journalism is leading the online charge here.

At last night's Hugh Cudlipp Lecture, The Guardian's editor Alan Rusbridger made reference to Cudlipp and Harold Evans, saying: 

The one thing Cudlipp and Evans hardly ever wrote about was business models. For one thing, they didn't have to. They lived at an age where, if you got the editorial product right, money was usually not the burning issue. There was cover price and there was advertising and – though, of course, there were many newspaper failures along the road – there was no great mystery about where revenues came from. Secondly, they didn't see that as their job. Their job was to edit great papers: other people worked out how to pay for it.

Yet the most common question most editors are now asked is: "What's the business model?"

Of course, the industry has moved on, Stewart is proving that. But the success of the CalMerc is dependent on its people and its journalism.

The reason there is such interest in the product isn't just because Kirkpatrick gives it credibility or Rab McNeill is one of the wittiest and insightful writers in Scotland.

It's because they seem to know what they are doing, have a plan, at a time when some in mainstream titles admit to being baffled as to what to do next.

They want what he's ordered. It looks good, it looks tasty.

But what happens if they come waving a big cheque asking to buy the project? 

Clearly, if it has enough zeroes, it will be sold.

But what if a sharp minded media executive was to go after Kirkpatrick and his top team for themselves, a big chair for a big job?

Would they accept and give up on their infant child before it can crawl let alone walk?

Or would they relish the challenge of transforming the way we consume big news today.

Categories: Launches

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