The pain at Johnston Press: Is it beginning to pay off yet?


By Noel Young, Correspondent

March 25, 2013 | 3 min read

A riveting picture of events at Johnston Press since Ashley Highfield took over 16 months ago , with the share price around 5p, is painted today in the Guardian.

Ashley Highfield: Digital vision

In his first year almost a quarter of staff - more than 1300 - lost their jobs.

"It was the moment of maximum pain," one City source told the Guardian.

Highfield, formerly of Microsoft and the BBC's ex-technology director, was said to have a "digitally charged vision" for the UK's largest publisher of regional newspapers, which includes the Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post.

In 2011, Digital accounted for just 4% of total revenues. Highfield's plan has now seen the launch of 20 tablet and mobile apps and 200 mobile websites.

With no previous newspaper experience, he had inherited a "hellish intray which included debt of close to £400m," said the Guardian. In April 2012 that resulted in a "murderous blended interest rate of 13%."

Under Highfield's restructure plan about 220 of Johnston Press's 250 titles have so far relaunched. Circulation revenues are up between 5% and more than 6%.

"Successive relaunches are getting better and better at driving revenues," he says. He hopes this year that sales income will grow for the first time since 2007.

Ian Russell, the chairman of Johnston Press, said the £37.6m in cost savings last year was "outstanding".

But one insider told the Guardian, "Not one of us thinks that we are going to be in a job in a year. They have in their heads that we are all Luddites and against change. We're not.

"We do the best we can all day, every day to produce great product on piddling budgets and they call that success. Morale is not good at all."

Johnston Press still has 4,350 staff. Print ad revenues still account for half of total revenues, but the ad decline was 15% last year.

Highfield,looking for further savings of £15 million, does not rule out more job cuts but he believes the worst is over.

"I don't need to make such big cuts again," he says. "I wanted to get most of the pain over as quickly as possible. "

In 2007 the share price had been 350p, The share price was up to 16.5p last week.


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