16 April 2012 - 6:31pm | posted by | 0 comments

Five daily papers go weekly in giant Johnston Press shake-up and more will follow

Ashley Highfield: huge changes from new bossAshley Highfield: huge changes from new boss

Johnston Press is turning five of its daily newspapers into weeklies as part of a huge shakeup by new chief executive Ashley Highfield.

The papers affected are the Halifax Courier, Scarborough Evening News, Northampton Chronicle & Echo, Peterborough Evening Telegraph and the Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph. All will be turned into weeklies by the end of next month.

It is understood that nether the Scotsman, the publisher's flagship daily title, nor the Yorkshire Post will go weekly as part of the reorganisation .

But Johnston plans to switch some of its other 18 dailies to weekly publication later this year. The other daily titles in its portfolio includes many famous names : Edinburgh Evening News, Yorkshire Evening Post, Lancashire Evening Post, The Gazette - Blackpool, Hartlepool Mail, The News – Portsmouth, Sheffield Star, Sunderland Echo, Wigan Evening Post, Shields Gazette - South Shields, Doncaster Star and the News Letter - Ulster.

The company said in a stock market announcement today that the nove by the five dailies to weekly publication was the first phase in each of its 170 paid-for newspapers being relaunched by the end of 2012 as part of a move to "platform neutral" publishing.

Johnston Press said it would launch new iPad versions of the titles, as well as 24-hour news coverage online.

The company said the relaunch of the five daily titles would involve "single-figure" job losses in Halifax, Kettering, Northampton, Peterborough and Scarborough. The five titles will print "bumper" weekly editions, running to about 150 pages each, by the end of May.

The move is the latest part of a major publishing shakeup by Johnston Press. Last week three long-serving editors and an editor-in-chief on its daily titles in Yorkshire, Lancashire and Edinburgh lost their jobs.

Ex-BBC and Microsoft man Highfield, who took over as chief executive of Johnston Press last year, said in a statement: "In my first few months at Johnston I have been greatly encouraged by what I have seen in our local operations. Our publishing strategy going forward will ensure that we give our local audiences what they want.

"While providing our existing audiences with an even better product, both in print and online, we will extend our audience by increasing our online content and making it easier to access in the most relevant ways as technologies continue to evolve."

He added: "Johnston's focus has always been on local and we will increasingly benefit from that core expertise with the rapid growth in both social media and in demand for access from mobile devices.

"We are committed to remaining a local company: that means local journalists and sales people working across the UK and Republic of Ireland, staying close to the communities and businesses they serve."

David Mackintosh, leader of Northampton Borough Council, said on Twitter he was "very sad" that the Northampton Chronicle and Echo would no longer publish a daily newspaper. Others on the paper's website described the shift as "the end of an era".

Further changes are to be revealed by Johnston Press during its annual results on 25 April.

The publisher said in the statement that its 273 local websites would be given a "light touch" relaunch. There would be a "substantial investment" in marketing for its relaunched online and weekly publications.

A spokesman for Johnston Press said each of its weekly titles would undergo a "meaningful" relaunch later this year. The shift to "platform neutral" newsrooms is likely to mean further job losses at the publisher.

Johnston Press had profits of £54.9m in 2010, but its £350m debt towers over its £40m market capitalisation. Shares had fallen to 6p on Monday , bringing the company's market cap down to £38.38m.

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