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A personal tribute: ‘This week we all lost a great champion of young writing talent’

By David McPhee at

The outpouring of sadness over the death of my friend and Positively Scottish editor, Calum Macdonald, has been substantial.

What’s been heartening however, is the sheer volume of young journalists using social media and online comments sections to pay tribute and thank him for the guidance and the faith he put in them when many others would not.

Legacy: “We all lost a great champion of young writing talent”

That’s what I’ll miss most about Calum: his willingness to believe in the talent of up-and-coming writers.

From my own part, Calum was initially my university lecturer. A former digital group editor at Heraldscotland, his classes were interesting, collaborative and knowledgeable.

Yet there wasn’t the obvious distance you often find in academia between student and teacher. He was instantly open, funny and extremely generous with his time.

Generous: Calum gave his time to many young writers.

Sensing this willingness to help, I asked him for advice on a difficult story I was writing about local infighting over a foodbank and his insight changed the piece from a grubby he said/she said into a feature with social concerns firmly at the centre.

That night in The Rio Café – just along from where he lived in Partick – would be the beginning of numerous lunch meetings where he would outline his plan for the solutions based online magazine, Positively Scottish, which would aim to put a spotlight on the constructive work being done in Scotland each day by organisations and individuals while also paying its writers a fair market rate for their work. Stories range from drug recovery and rape rehabilitation to people forging new communities by helping those at home and abroad.

It’s probably the best writer to editor relationship I’ll ever have and I’m not alone. I personally know at least half a dozen working journalists who have Calum to thank for their present position at established newspapers and magazines, and there are many more out there.

David McPhee:

‘The outpouring of sadness over the death of my friend and Positively Scottish editor, Calum Macdonald, has been substantial.

‘What’s been heartening however, is the sheer volume of young journalists using social media and online comments sections to pay tribute and thank him for the guidance and the faith he put in them when many others would not.’

Often when I’ve met someone who he also took under his wing the response is always the same: he had faith in me when no one else did.

Up to the last moment, Calum was accepting pitches, giving advice and commissioning socially conscious stories written by young journalists around Scotland.

As other large news agencies are failing young journalists daily, he was determined to give them a platform to flourish. While sensationalism and breaking news have their place, Calum wanted to publish stories of people working at the coalface for the betterment of society.

Mentor: Calum was a guiding hand to many young journalists.

Six days a week Positively Scottish published stories that dealt with social problems, local successes and individuals who, for once reason or another, make Scotland the diverse and forward thinking nation we often don’t readily acknowledge.

It was inclusive, not only in the way it fostered young journalistic talent, but in who it wrote about both here and in foreign climes. If you lived to do productive things in Scotland then we wanted to know about it.

David McPhee:

‘It’s probably the best writer to editor relationship I’ll ever have and I’m not alone.

“I personally know at least half a dozen working journalists who have Calum to thank for their present position at established newspapers and magazines, and there are many more out there.

‘Often when I’ve met someone who he also took under his wing the response is always the same: he had faith in me when no one else did.’

I personally owe a great deal to Calum Macdonald. He could easily have arrived at university each day and simply done his job, especially given the current tumultuous state of our industry. But that wouldn’t have been Calum.

Portfolios now overflow with published work that he commissioned and encouraged. People often wonder about what others will say about them when they’re gone. This week I lost a friend. This week we all lost a great champion of young writing talent.

* David McPhee is a young freelance journalist based in the West End writing about social concerns and lifestyle for Postively Scottish, The List, The Westender and Vice Magazine. He has a Masters in Digital Journalism from the University of Strathclyde.