19 December 2014

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JP to hand out 1,700 laptops as relaunches delayed

Regional publisher Johnston Press has delayed its planned series of newspaper launches and promised to give its journalists “the tools to do the job.”

The company is relaunching each one of its 170 paid-for titles as a part of a rolling programme designed to equip them for the era of multi-platform publishing.

It had been due to be completed by November, but most of the remaining relaunches have now been postponed until 2013.

Announcing the move to staff via email, chief executive Ashley Highfield said part of the reason for the delay was the need to ensure journalists had the right technology to help bring about the necessary improvements in content.

In his email, which has been seen by HTFP, Ashley revealed that by the end of the relaunch programme, around 1,700 journalists will each have received a new laptop, mobile phone and Google Mail account, while all editors will have iPads.

He wrote:  “Remember we promised to provide our journalists with the right tools to do the job? Well, we’re going to link that investment with the next stage of relaunches.

“It means that as each paper relaunches we will be working to give its editorial team the latest technology. It makes every bit of sense to link the new technology with relaunch because we need to look at developing and improving our content alongside the new designs – and providing our journalists with the best and most suitable equipment will help us achieve that.

“However we will need more than a few months to achieve that across the group so we have decided to stage the roll-out of remaining relaunches over a longer period. That means some of you will relaunch in early 2013 instead of later this year.”

The first phase of the relaunch programme saw five daily titles switching to weekly, eight broadsheets going compact, three North-East freesheets going paid-for and six East Midlands weeklies given a radical redesign.

In his email, Ashley admitted some of the feedback from the first phase of relaunches had been “not so good” and that more needed to be done to improve content.

“A key finding from the first phase was that we need to do even more to improve our content – particularly where we are increasing cover prices – so each editor is being asked to provide a content improvement plan that will serve as a blueprint for their relaunch,” he wrote.

“We also need to think about what types of content will help us reach new audiences – a big focus for relaunch – while keeping our heartland readers happy. We need more research to understand what content people would look for if they’re to become regular purchasers.”

The original relaunch schedule, outlined at a presentation to JP investors on the day of publication of the company’s annual results in April, would have seen 53 more titles relaunched in July 2012, a further 37 in September and 60 in November.

However although the relaunches for the remaining East Midlands and South Midlands titles will still go ahead this year, the remainder are to be delayed until January 2013.

36 Comments

  1. Nervous wreck

    Never has the football chant ‘you don’t know what you’re doing’ been more apt. I like the big announcement about laptops and more technology. Will they ever materialise? It’s just a smoke screen for the realisation that you can’t blow away hundreds of years of newspaper development and not suffer the consequences. Papers look like they do because they’ve evolved like that. Setting a few designs on every JP title is suicide along with a set content structure.

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  2. In Cod We Trust

    “We also need to think about what types of content will help us reach new audiences . . . We need more research to understand what content people would look for if they’re to become regular purchasers.”

    I cannot believe that we’ve gone all this way down the road of relaunch and repositioning and only now are we thinking about what sort of content people want.

    Trimming papers up to look nice is easy, frankly. Generating the material to go in them and preparing it properly is not.

    Content should come before design.

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  3. outofit

    Inept is the first word that comes to mind. Criminal is the second. JP stumbles on from disaster to disaster. That’s what comes of people who don’t have a clue about the most important part of the newspaper industry – the readers.
    And how are they going to boost local content when so many journalists have been chucked on the scrapheap and most papers are put together miles from their own base by subs with no local knowledge?

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  4. SoonToBeExReader

    “We need to do even more to improve content…”

    In that case, why are certain newspapers cutting key staff left, right and centre? I’m a reader of one of JP’s biggest titles – with a massively-followed football team – which is on about cutting its sports journalist. Yeah, that’s really going to boost content.

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  5. JP worrier

    Those Spanish designers must be laughing all the way to the bank at scooping up big piles of JP’s cash.

    Doesn’t matter how pretty it looks, if the content ain’t there (which lets face it, only needs to be good strong news and pictures) people won’t buy it.

    And now the top dogs at JP finally realise that. Strewth.

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  6. Corporal Clegg

    You don’t need research to tell you that the only content the punters want is good local news and pictures, well presented, by journalists with time to do a good job supporting their communities and reflecting how life is lived there. Bean counters and pen-pushers have cut staffing to the bone so much that many titles have become an irrelevance in the locality because their news and picture coverage is poor.

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  7. Hack, the north

    I am absolutely incencsed that it has taken Highfield this long to work out that if you want journalists to work in the 21st century you need to provide them with modern equipment. Our office computers are not even fast enough to be able to upload a photo, or to access Twitter. The switch of the daily titles to weekly has absolutely bombed – and now that Highfield has admitted that we weren’t prepared it feels like we were litttle more than sacrificial lambs. He might shrug his shoulders as it was ‘only’ five newspapers. But they were five papers with proud histories representing real communities. They have beene left in tatters, no matter what spin Highfield wants to put on the readership figures. The journalists (and even editors) at these papers warned that readers would leave in their droves if we went weekly. And guess what? They were right. A few laptops are not going to placate all the angry journalists still left at these five titles.

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  8. Nervous wreck

    Editors will have Hi-pads… Brilliant. There’s only a few left anyway and being able to play Angry Birds won’t improve the 10 newspapers each that they control. Having a reliable, decent, fast system that isn’t Atex will. Having staff will. Not putting everything on the website for free before the same stuff is put in the newspaper that costs £1 will.

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  9. Sub be good to me

    So we all know the next step….
    All reporters working from home!
    Cut costs, cut costs, cut costs.
    And then there was one!

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  10. JP worrier

    Can someobne supply some circulation figures for before and after for the relaunched titles?
    Funnily enough, I can’t seem to find that info in my inbox from Ashley or on The Word…

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  11. Happy Now

    As someone made redundant by JP this year, this doesn’t surprise me. The paper where I used to enjoy working now looks cluttered in its weekly form. I hope my former, junior, colleagues can get out as soon as they can. Unsurprisingly, they all want to and some are doing so. Good luck replacing them. The senior guys you cherry-picked to keep on to save paying out redundancy packages won’t be any help. My working life has improved immeasurably since leaving. Still makes me sad to see what’s happening though.

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  12. XJP

    And yet there is no mention of having enough staff to provide this essential content. Laptops and smart phones are a great idea, and focusing on content is a must, but here’s the thing: the journalists are already massively over-worked, particularly since the relaunch and having more pressure put on them to be “digital first”. JP has to invest in its staff or more and more will run away like rats from a sinking ship.
    It makes me so sad to see the state of the local paper I used to work for. I can’t help but feel it’s the beginning of the end for it, and for many others.
    Wake up, JP. You’re killing the industry.

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  13. Subbed Out

    Content is King. Always has been. Always will be. Wherever I go on holiday I always buy the local paper and, no matter how badly designed it is, I will read it from cover to cover if the content is compelling enough. Then I will buy it again the next time I see it. IT ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE !!!

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  14. richard meredith

    JP journos …. all may not be lost. Just remember that Ray Tindle has been quietly buying up JP shares and could possible be thinking of stepping in for the lot when the price is right (which may not be too not far off the way things are looking). Yes, he’s a wily old bird – but he’s also a newspaperman to the core. There may be hope yet!

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  15. sherryfan, south

    To be fair to the Spanish they had about three months to do a job they usually meticulously spend 18 months on. Things like going out and asking the public what they want and speaking to the people that matter more and more on papers- the reporters. (theres no-one else left much)
    The tragedy is a lot of papers simply don’t need a relaunch.But JP insists on a one-size fits all approach. To what end we don’t know.
    JP had the same approach with Atex; top down. here it is. get on with it. Ashley can’t be blamed for that one.

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  16. Cherrywonder

    If the boss of a massive UK newspaper group doesn’t know what the readers want without carrying out “research to understand” then it sort of begs a big question, the wording of which is so obvious I can’t be bothered typing it out.

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  17. Hack, the north

    Oh, and by the way Hiighfield, if you think that giving me a laptop and a phone means I will be willing to work remotely, you can think again. If, however, you’re happy to pay for me market rent so I can work from my spare room (which I don’t actually own, due to poor wages), for an internet connection and a car to travel to and from jobs then I’m sure we can come to some agreement.

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  18. Mike Hallowell, Tyneside

    I’ve freelanced for the Shields Gazette since 1982, and have to say that although I’d like to be paid more for my contributions I appreciate that, in the current financial climate, that’s unlikely to happen. However, I must say that, barring one minor blip some years ago, JP have been remarkably prompt at paying me after being invoiced. Spookily prompt, actually. Just thought I’d mention that.

    Anyway, on to the main point of this post. With all this talk of re-launches, my deepest concerns are layout and style. There seems to be a move now to introduce as many colours as possible on to the front page of provincials, giving them the appearance of lurid “Hurry, Hurry Hurry, While Stocks Last!” posters in a low-budget supermarket. Is there any chance that the companies who turn out our local papers might consider the possibility that readers want to read something with a bit gravitas, something that doesn’t require donning a pair of shades before looking at it, and – just as importantly – contains more text than pretty pictures? The Gazette has largely resisted this trend, I’m glad to say, but I worry for the future.

    I think many readers would subscribe to the weeklies if they actually looked as if there was something worth reading inside. “WIN A BUNCH OF FLOWERS IN OUR GREAT NEW BINGO GAME!” just doesn’t cut it, methinks.

    Many moons ago, the Gazette published pieces by Arthur Conan Doyle and Robert Oppenheimer to name just two heavyweight contributors. The paper looked more like the Times. Its still a good paper, but I just hope the powers that be at JP let it stay that way. A good paper should look good, and not give the impression that an over-excited three-year-old has attacked it with a box of paints.

    Oh, maybe I’m just getting picky in my old age…

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  19. whocares?

    Providing more laptops is not the only answer. The centralised approach has failed and could never succeed because it was based only on cost-cutting and not driven by what customers want. The media market place has become more localised and yet JP has chosen to go the other way with its outdated centralisation ideas. Technology in 2012 means local journalists and sales teams can work more effectively (and more efficiently) in their local areas. Highfield has done the complete opposite of what was required. Simply moving production and sales staff hundreds of miles from their customers does not make them more efficient. There is no saving.

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  20. Rob

    “A key finding from the first phase was that we need to do even more to improve our content”

    I thought these changes were introduced following “detailed” reports. Did they not think decent content was needed then?

    “particularly where we are increasing cover prices” – I’m amazed that people don’t want to pay more for a worse or similar project. But then I don’t have the benefit of being a newspaper group director. They are obviously far more expert than us and can pick up these complex reader needs.

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  21. hacker

    Sub be good to me – I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Laptops and mobiles for journalists are a welcome idea in this digital world, but the past few years of relentless cuts and rationalisation means that they surely point towards reporters working at home or in a cafe rather than in the office. Again, flexible working is good – but not if the newsrooms across the north are going to be axed and everything centralised in Sheffield.

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  22. Obvious, At home

    It is pretty clear this move is designed to get reporters working out of the office at all times (possibly coming into a rented meeting room once a week to discuss ideas) so they can save on the costs of running offices all over the country. Can’t see how they can apply this to subbing offices so they will stay I think.
    I can understand why they are doing it, but gone are the days of the office banter and feeling part of a team which I experienced when I first started. It made the job worthwhile and bearable during difficult times. Now what will you have during those moments…Jeremy Kyle.

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  23. phnurg

    Roy Greenslade’s comments in his Guardian blog on this HTFP story make interesting reading…is time running out for AH?

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  24. One of Ashley's Cuts

    How many laptops, Iphones and mobile phones does it take to pay for a journalist’s wages? Giving people gadgets is not going to improve content, people are and after shredding journalists and subs, Ashley is suprised to find the content has suffered? Just one visit to one newsroom and talking to one reporter would have told him that not millions of pounds spent on needlessly redesigning papers. I hear the Northampton Chronicle & Echo’s spellcheck is now in spanish thanks to the new system. Journos are having to copy and paste into word to check stories – how is that for the new digital age?!

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  25. Jeremy Deacon

    Cutting jobs … improving content ….mmmmm

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  26. Another one of Ashley's cuts

    Thank Goodness I escaped.

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  27. Mr Polly

    All newspaper production, from reporting to page make-up, is done on screen and has been for well over 20 years. The only intriguing thing about this announcement is the switch to mobile technology rather than desktop technology. Will these laptops simply replace the desktop machines already in use or supplement them? The only worry I have is that this signals a move to having more staff working from home on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. And it’s only a small step from that to making everyone a casual eking out a living by submitting copy to two or three production hubs scattered across the country. Or maybe even just one giant production hub in time, like the PA at Howden. Is this announcement going to be followed by more office closures and centralisation?

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  28. Incredulous

    This announcement doesn’t even read as though AH believes it. So, we’ve imposed a lot of ‘top down’ missives, they’ve failed dismally so now, belatedly, we’ll get the editors working on some ‘content improvement plans’. Priceless. Absolutely priceless.

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  29. Big Dave

    We ask readers to pay more money for their paper while providing them with few pages, fewer stories, written by fewer people. And most of the content has been available free online for days.
    Then people wonder why the circulations keep dropping.
    But on the plus side – it looks like I’m getting a laptop and (finally!) a work phone. No longer will I have pay out of my own pocket to do the calls on a weekend!
    It only took five years of asking.

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  30. Ritch

    As someone made redundant earlier this year by JP, I’m trying not to view this with bitterness. But it’s hard.

    Most editors tried to embrace the changes, be as positive as possible and make it work.
    Mainly because editors are desperate for some new “strategies” to make more money and protect their papers.
    Some got caught up with Highfield’s enthusiasm (a noble trait), but many more were scared of putting their head above a parapet in this slash and burn culture.

    Despite this, pretty much every editorial person I spoke to foresaw problems with the re-launches. These concerns were raised – but only lip service was paid to them.
    And it is EXACTLY the concerns editors predicted that have caused this roll-out to be an utter disaster.

    If content is key – then the stubborn directors and accountants need to listen to their editors on how to deliver it. Not dictate how it’s done.
    They have given editors a patronising “list” of content which shows just how little those at the top understand editorial.
    Basically the “content improvement” plan will be marking things off this list (ie weddings, education stories, business news, court (maybe if we still had the staff)) depending on what “cluster” your paper fits into, and adding ones you don’t do already.

    In the real world, the biggest barrier to improving “content” is forcing editors to squeeze and cut back “content” into set shapes.

    It’s an extremely basic and simple premise JP – by taking away an editor’s ability to let content dictate design, the content suffers. It’s really not hard to grasp.
    Readers will notice this, and readers will turn away from the papers.

    In JP’s defence, there are some poor editors and papers out there.
    Sub hubs doing the front pages for these papers have helped them enormously.
    However, for the vast majority, eroding the power of editors (and sacking them by the dozen) is the biggest single error JP are making at the moment.

    Editors are not a barrier to change. Editors are the people who know their products better than anyone and are best placed to implement change.
    So rather than being swayed by your bean-counting generals, listen to editors when they tell you your big plan is flawed Mr Highfield. You might save yourself a lot of embarrassment like this in the future.

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  31. Bernard Humpage

    Delayed the launch … could this be because the people put in charge of pulling together all these templates for the group were made redundant when their department and work load moved to India ?
    This task was then passed to another department, who were dropped in it (so to speak), and are now probably muddling their way through it … only speculating.

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  32. John

    Shares jumped 20% today, wierd concidering all the poor results recently. Just sold mine at at 23% profit. If only JP could produce results like that!!!

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  33. phnurg

    Why ARE the shares soaring? I think we should be told.

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  34. Pompa

    Morale at an all-time low, good people going, the suicidal threat of more weeklies instead of dailies and this con – no doubt cheap, unreliable kit so they can sell/exit offices to cut the costs even more (will they pay for decent Internet access at home as I don’t have it?) – JP are a compete and utter shambles, run by a fool. Talk, too, that ads are being sold for paper, with freebie for website thrown in, and that sale going onto web accounts to boost the mad digital first policy. Sickening for all staff.

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  35. Oliver, Nottingham

    All this ‘free stuff online is killing us’ gets on my nerves. Newspapers have been in constant decline well before Facebook, Twitter and WordPress were even invented.

    The fact is, newspapers aren’t making much money out of display ads and they ain’t getting property ads back from Rightmove, or motors ads back from Autotrader or jobs ads from countless recruitment websites. They have always been the main driver of the business and they’ve gone. Face facts!

    If you think people will buy print because it has exclusive news, you’re wrong. They’ll wait a day and pick it up elsewhere for free. News has not been the main driver of purchase for decades. Many more people have traditionally bought their local rag for the property, motors, jobs, sport, classifieds, BMD, and ,yes, even the crossword.

    Having said that, online advertising also ain’t gonna pay the bills at present and most companies will have to rely on contextual ads, online directory services, SEO services, social media campaigns, video marketing etc. None of which make loads of money, if any, at present, but they are certainly revenue streams which print can NEVER offer.

    Get your heads out of your backsides and get on board with digital if you want a career in journalism which is going to last more than the next five years.

    And, I agree, it’s not journalism in it’s traditional sense and we may have to make certain tough concessions on how we write, investigate or campaign, but it’s an evolution.

    If you don’t like it, get out. If you can live with it, get on board. Just don’t go on moaning about the ‘good old days’ and how we should be investing in print.

    There will always be a few success stories in niche markets/areas where print will continue to thrive and good luck to them but, on the whole, we’re facing an overall change in the consumption of everything that once appeared in print – and not just news!

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  36. JP Hack

    I don’t think any JP staff are under the illusion that digital is the way forward – the problem is, JP expect the papers AND the websites AND the videos AND tweeting and gawd knows what else by an ever dwindling band of staff.

    That’s the issue here.

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