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Johnston Press signals it may sell off newspaper titles

Johnston Press logoRegional publisher Johnston Press has signalled it may sell off some of its 200-plus newspaper titles to fund investment and help pay down debt.

In a trading update this morning, JP announced it has carried out a review of its portfolio that has identified some assets for potential sale.

The company says it is now exploring whether some of these assets could be sold to what it is calling “identified parties” and the proceeds used to help pay off its £184.6m net debt.

The move could spark another round of consolidation in the regional press industry following the recent takeover by Trinity Mirror of fellow regional publisher Local World.

Today’s update states:  “As part of the group’s portfolio review, a number of brands have been identified that are not part of its long-term future, as they fall outside its selected markets, do not match the audience focus, or do not offer the levels of digital growth sought by the group.

“A process has been initiated to explore the sale of these assets to identified parties.

“If the disposal process is successful in realising appropriate value for the assets, proceeds will be used to fund on-going investment in preferred markets and to further deleverage the group.”

The group’s current portfolio includes 13 daily, 154 weekly paid-for and 37 weekly free newspapers, a number of glossy monthly lifestyle magazines, some smaller specialist local publications, 215 local websites, and 31 tablet and smartphone apps.

Chief executive Ashley Highfield said:  “We have a very clear portfolio strategy this year and will be focusing on three key areas that can help us return to overall growth: audiences (delivering the right content and advertising to the right audiences); geographies (focusing on our brands which are in markets where there is potential for growth) and serving our higher-yielding customers ever better to ensure we get our local display advertising business back to growth (our national advertising business, helped by the 1XL digital advertising network, is already in growth).

“Having carried out a full portfolio review we have identified some brands which don’t fit with this longer-term strategy or which might better complement another business’ portfolio.

“We are currently looking into various opportunities – including selling certain assets – and will make further announcements when, and if, it is appropriate.

“Proceeds from any potential sale could be invested in our growth markets, and to further delever the business.”

According to the trading update, which covers the whole of 2015, underlying revenues fell 7pc year-on-year, with print advertising revenues down 12pc.

However digital revenues were up 12pc and the number of unique users across JP’s online portfolio rose to 22.6m.

National display advertising revenues saw a rise of 3pc, driven by a near-doubling of revenues from digital advertising exchange partnership 1XL, but local display revenues were down 7pc.

The former classified categories of recruitment, property and motors were down 13pc, 17pc, and 11pc respectively.

The update references the regional management restructure carried on 1 December which saw a number of senior executives leave the business and the promotion of Jeremy Clifford to a newly-created editor-in-chief role.

“This will enable the group to prioritise investment in growth markets while delivering a consistent advertising solution to both National and SME display advertisers across the portfolio,” it said.

“The alignment of editorial under a single editor-in-chief, will also ensure content sharing is optimised and a clear consistent approach to delivering content to audiences online, on mobile, via social media and in print.

“The group has clear plans to drive revenue and make further cost reductions in 2016, guided by a strategy that prioritises our display advertising products and focuses on growing digital revenues in key economic-growth geographies and with key audiences with more disposable income.”

Last week, JP announced a group-wide reorganisation which the National Union of Journalists has claimed could lead to up to 100 job losses.

JP staff in Scotland have been told the company is seeking up to 32 voluntary redundancies across its Scottish operations, which include The Scotsman and Edinburgh Evening News, while the BBC has reported that 13 editorial jobs to go in its Northern Ireland division.

The union has also claimed that 22 editorial management roles – editors, content editors and deputies – are facing the axe across the UK.

Johnston Press has described the NUJ’s figures as a “worst-case scenario.”

53 comments

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  • January 19, 2016 at 9:22 am
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    Given that most titles in the JP ‘portfolio’ have been stripped back to little more than parish newsletters – and in some cases worse – who in their right mind would want to buy them?

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  • January 19, 2016 at 9:28 am
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    If this happens, it must be the beginning of the end for JP? Its understandable that someone might want the ‘prestige’ titles. But what would that leave the company with?
    So much for the expected Newsquest merger, then.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 9:33 am
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    You are absolutely right User Generated Content they have been stripped back to nothing in many cases…it sounds as if they are going to sell them as a package, rather than as individual titles, which is a shame. Selling them title by title or by regional group would be the best long-term hope for the papers. Asset-wise they will have been stripped to the bone, I doubt there is even an office anywhere near the patches they are suppose to cover.
    But having said all of that they do have one thing that is more valuable even than a building…. it is the very title itself. That would be the only thing worth paying for.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 9:41 am
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    What gets me is the contempt that is shown towards the long-suffering readers, advertisers and staff of the condemned titles in words like these…

    “As part of the group’s portfolio review, a number of brands have been identified that are not part of its long-term future, as they fall outside its selected markets, do not match the audience focus, or do not offer the levels of digital growth sought by the group.”

    And this…

    “The group has clear plans to drive revenue and make further cost reductions in 2016, guided by a strategy that prioritises our display advertising products and focuses on growing digital revenues in key economic-growth geographies and with key audiences with more disposable income.”

    Newspapers (NOT assets or brands) used to serve the communities they are in taking the rough with the smooth, for good and bad and rich and poor.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 9:43 am
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    I wonder if the Sussex weekly papers might be easy prey for the greedy Gannett and its bed-mate Newsquest.The JP papers have struggled for quality in recent years and lost a lot of sales but it would give NQ a massive county coverage and who knows there might be an daily NQ paper in the weekly stable before much longer.
    The only doubt is that NQ are not exactly going great guns.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 9:50 am
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    I could weep. No bull, some once fine papers that served their community well and were well-loved are just news ghosts now. One day someone will reflect that the past decade has been one of newspaper carnage by its own management.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 10:01 am
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    It’s clear many, if not all, of Johnston’s papers “do not match the audience focus”. Just look at the desperate sales figures… If you tried to make a balls of running a newspaper group you couldn’t do a better job.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 10:05 am
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    Laughable. Once again the management of this zombie company show they have no strategy for the business and no affinity with their readers and advertisers.

    Having stripped any value their assets have by systematically ruining perfectly good newspapers, JP now tout a delusional idea that there might be people out there foolish enough to want to buy these newspapers.

    While this is going on, JP execs continue to peddle the myth that digital will be the golden goose that will save the company. How much evidence do these people need to see that this strategy isn’t going to work?

    One must also wonder what effect Ashley and his mates think getting rid of 100 staff is going to have on both their printed product and their digital offering.

    The share price over recent months tells you everything you need to know. The investors have spoken. JP is done for.

    Worth noting that last May Ashley Highfield sold a huge number of shares at a ridiculously high price. Shows he actually does know what he’s doing.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 10:08 am
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    User Generated Content: “Who in their right mind would buy them?” Nobody. Come in Newsquest :o(

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  • January 19, 2016 at 10:21 am
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    Shouldn’t that be: ‘key economic-growth geographies’ going forward?

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  • January 19, 2016 at 10:29 am
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    I got about three pars into this story and felt an uncontrollable urge to play bullcrap bingo.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 11:00 am
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    Someone might buy the newspapers if they were put up for sale – for £1 each! That would help to bring down the debt wouldn’t it. Just think JP could get more than £200 if they sold them all off.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 11:18 am
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    They have already got rid of staff and property now its the papers themselves in order to cook the books all in the cause of supplying 22.6 million unique users with a FREE service.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 11:18 am
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    Well what a surprise!

    Many of us posting on HTFP if not all of us have seen this coming for the past 12-18 months with no satisfaction in saying I told you so.
    2016 has started off with nothing but job losses, cut backs closures and cost cutting and today’s announcement from JP further underlines just how the big boys view their newspaper portfolios and to say no ones investing in the news print side of the business anymore is an understatement.
    How long before the others follow suit and review their print producers and do the same?
    One more nail in the coffin of regional press and more food people cast aside as a result .
    My advice to anyone working for the so called big four is to get your cv updated and out there and with an exit plan pdq before an exit plan is sorted for you.
    Sadly there’s no future in local newsprint publishing so best make your own plans now and think of yourself as certainly your employers aren’t thinking of you or your future, just themselves

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  • January 19, 2016 at 11:31 am
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    Downnotout – I would love to look at recent JP sales figures – do you know where they are lurking? Do share.
    It’s not surprising that it’s time to sell, there really isn’t much else JP can do to cut costs and/or raise revenue. It is a real shame.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 11:41 am
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    Hello, I’m your auctioneer for today, here we have an exciting lot in need of total refurbishment. It does however have one good feature, the majority of the staff.
    May I start the bidding at £10

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  • January 19, 2016 at 11:53 am
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    I wouldn’t be surprised to see Archant move in on the JP Norfolk/Suffolk operation.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 12:00 pm
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    So ad revenues are down coupled with huge overheads and debts which is given as a big reason for the likely closures but will any ad reps or their managers be affected in this round of job losses of which there will be many? No of course not, just the poor saps from the editorial department yet again, why?
    In what other business or industry are the ones who are directly involved with any revenue or business losses not held to account?
    It’s no wonder there’s so many ex regional press journalists thriving outside of the business without a good word to say about their ex employees and so many disgruntled demoralised and anxious people within the industry all looking to get out at the first opportunity to do so.

    There’s obviously no long term future in local newspaper publishing as today’s announcement makes clear,local news groups are only interested in digital media and online revenue but as of yet chase it down without web offerings of any quality or traffic to make it viable to an advertiser or of interest to a potential viewer.
    Best look to your own future all you still treading water in the regionals, there’s certainly no future in RP anymore

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  • January 19, 2016 at 12:11 pm
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    the Northern Ireland division must be a cert for sale following the sale of the Republic of Ireland titles.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 12:20 pm
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    Could some one please tell me what “deleverage” means?
    I only speak English (and a bit of French, Italian and Portuguese)
    Even my American-based spelling checker doesn’t understand it.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 12:39 pm
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    According to JP, the situation envisaged by the NUJ is the “worst case scenario”. Surely that happened when JP expanded, buying up and destroying once profitable, thriving regional newspapers across the British Isles, closing down printworks and offices, depriving communities of their weeklies, evenings and mornings and putting thousands out of work. I’d like to think, where the business ‘brains’ behind all this are concerned, that what goes around really does come around – and with retribution in this world, not damnation in the next!

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  • January 19, 2016 at 12:45 pm
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    There are newspapers in the JP portfolio that you couldn’t give away – once proud publications which JP wrecked. All the absolute gibberish in their latest statements can’t mask the fact that they couldn’t run a church bulletin. Bravo, Ashley and Co, selfish, stupid idiots whose greed has brought down an empire…

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  • January 19, 2016 at 12:46 pm
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    Anyone still think there’s a future for regional newspapers in this country ?
    This year so far has all been about job cuts, losses, closures,downsizing and today’s announcement that all but says JP are washing their hands of unprofitable local news papers ( that’s all of them then) and we’re not a month in yet.

    And jezzerw why would Archant be interested or in a position to buy the JP titles you mention? They’re also struggling to keep their heads above water as it is with a portfolo of ailing titles that fewer and fewer people are buying,digital sites that are chasing an audience and aren’t making money,an embarrassing local tv station watched by no one yet incurring over half a million loss and unless I’m mistaken are still in a legal battle with HMRC over the small matter of £13 million, i wouldn’t be surprised if they’re not next in line to announce changes to their portfolio.

    Commiserations to all aff cited by this latest round of imminent job losses and also anyone who thinks they have future in local press anymore
    2016 will be a significant year for the uk regional press

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  • January 19, 2016 at 1:05 pm
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    At the micro-economic level, deleveraging refers to the reduction of the leverage ratio, or the percentage of debt in the balance sheet of a single economic entity, such as a household or a firm. It is the opposite of leveraging, which is the practice of borrowing money to acquire assets and multiply gains and losses.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 1:06 pm
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    It means reducing the debt, in biz-speak euphemisms

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  • January 19, 2016 at 2:01 pm
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    I can only hope that JP offloads some of its Yorkshire papers.
    Trouble is, while the weakly in my home town is pretty dire with hardly any local coverage, its sister up the road, which supplies our content, is stuffed with ads and must be a cash cow.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 2:32 pm
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    There is a clear local marketplace position,and healthy future, for a focussed, top notch weekly newspaper..
    Sadly,there is not a weekly newspaper, that comes even close to being the eyes,ears, voice and heart of its community.
    The results of the cobbled together,charity cheque driven efforts of today has made it very easy for publishers like JP to bail out of printed products.
    Even sadder is the fact that the decline in quality has been so severe and consistent, that any thoughts of a future went out of the window along with the talented professionals who were sacrificed earlier.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 2:34 pm
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    The light at the end of the JP tunnel has been switched off to save further costs.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 3:35 pm
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    That’s done the trick…and i do mean trick!
    Check on JP’s shares recovery today (Tues), but be assured that doom is still just around the corner.
    No Newspeak rantings about selling off assets is going to have any lasting effect on the true situation.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 3:36 pm
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    Seriously, is there an ordinary shop worker ( not middle management brown nose)out there in JP who can change the tone of this “discussion” and tell us the staff are a lot more optimistic and happy in their work than it appears and they have absolute faith in Ashley Highfield. I mean it, enlighten us.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 3:36 pm
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    It looks likely that most publishers will be closing down a fair few newspapers in the coming years. I believe there are too many newspapers and too few customers to care about reading them! It looks likely 24 hr news on TV and the internet will now force the closure of many historic papers.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 3:40 pm
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    Quite why anyone with an ounce of pride in themselves or a genuine belief in their abilities would want to hang around the dying regional press in any capacity is beyond me. When times were good it was a fantastic industry to be in with opportunities galore and options to progress a plenty, nowadays it’s a bleak wasteland with the decision makers and board members no longer interested in quality, loyalty or serving their communities, simply themselves and satisfied with covering losses,damage limitating keeping afloat yet all without moving the businesses and products forward.
    It’s clearly an industry in decline and one that will see more closures and job losses in the months to come right across the country so take my advice ,see the signs, notice the trends and go your own way as the days of the employer valuing you and providing you with a future built around hard work and effort are long gone, you’re just a number and a cost item on a list to be crossed off as and when the next round of cost savings need to be made.
    Not so much if the axe falls in you more a case of when.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 3:48 pm
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    Mr Ed, Local papers do have a future and a good one but they can’t carry on the way they were. It’s all very well blaming cuts, they certainly accelerated matters, but the papers were going down hill long before that.
    Too many editors used to think that sticking a few crime stories, rewritten council press releases, a coffee morning or to, a few photos of local children and nibs (always with the pointless dull nibs) constituted a local newspaper.
    No wonder the bean counters looked at what was being put out and thought… hang on.
    A vibrant local newspaper that is relevant, well written and beautifully laid out will stand a better chance of survival. I am not saying all would survive even with the above but they would stand a chance.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 4:21 pm
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    Remind me again why this industry remains intent on giving away all of its content online for free? It feels like voluntarily speed-walking toward the gallows.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 4:25 pm
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    Percy whilst agreeing with your point about well written beautifully laid out papers,in the hard cold light of the world we live in unless there’s sufficient funding from advertisers happy to pay to reach a niche demographic or very high number of people in a certain area that would finance the level of sustainable quality you mention this type of ideal publication will go the same route as the rest relying on rgc,easy to obtain or reader supplied news only of interest to those involved, commercial pieces written to keep a rare advertiser happy by massaging their egos and struggling week to week to cover costs and keep afloat.
    Nice thought though it is,it’s better to face reality and not wish for something that no one can make happen. If it were as simple as that everyone would be doing it.

    Mark my words there’s no future in the regional press in this country anymore and the whole media landscape will have changed beyond all recognition by year end., far too much has gone wrong for far too long to be able to turn back the clock and start again now.
    A case of Too little too late

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  • January 19, 2016 at 4:48 pm
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    Has JP ever considered deleveraging its management team? Just a thought.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 5:24 pm
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    Will the last journalist out please switch off the light – oh sorry, I forgot, the light bulb has already been sold off

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  • January 19, 2016 at 5:50 pm
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    WHY, WHY, WHY do people say it’s an industry in decline! It’s NOT in decline…it’s being murdered! Greedy managers saw a chance to save millions by going digital…less printing and transport costs, less staff. They didn’t see the lack of appetite from advertisers for putting their precious .ads on a tiny screen with bad, unfriendly layouts. But they pushed on regardless, neglecting papers in the process, destroying them before their new baby had taken off. It DIDN’T take off and WON’T take off but the core business has been virtually destroyed. So please don’t say the industry is dying or in decline. It was fine until the digi-gits came along with their half baked ideas. The JP papers that do get sold could be the lucky ones.

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  • January 19, 2016 at 10:34 pm
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    Local newspapers have no future end of… If they have who is going to to splash out £1 or whatever it’s they cost these days? Only the older generation and they are dying off. Younger people, under 35, have grown up without newspapers and so they aren’t going to start buying one now. I got out – was pushed – six years ago and could see the writing on the wall even then. Why are those still imprisoned in newspapers still deluding themselves? Get out before it’s too late.

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  • January 20, 2016 at 8:52 am
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    Oh Hub dweller, I’m not talking about a pipe dream. It can happen. If businesses are your readers than those readers will be your advertisers. It needs imagination though and, admittedly, that has been in short supply for very many years now.
    During a brief tenure as editor I found that when the paper improved people wanted to become more involved. We got more features, quality features that filled up the book. That gave the reporters time to find better news stories, making the product more attractive and readers more inclined to read it.
    Shortly before Christmas I read the story of a hit and run driver in Nottingham being jailed on the BBC. I wanted to know more, so checked out Matthew Scrimshaw on the Nottingham Evening Post. The copy was dire, clearly direct from an agency and didn’t even have a photograph of the man, let alone any background. It was obviously a big enough story to go national, I would have expected the editorial staff to have realised and acted on it. If they couldn’t even do that properly, it explains why papers are so dire… but it needn’t cost a fortune.

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  • January 20, 2016 at 8:54 am
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    Callmecynical, people over 35 have an average lifespan of at least another 35 years…

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  • January 20, 2016 at 9:00 am
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    Truly, is there a customary shop laborer ( not center administration cocoa nose)out there in JP who can change the tone of this “examination” and let us know the staff are significantly more idealistic and upbeat in their work than it shows up and they have outright confidence in Ashley Highfield. I mean it, illuminate us. manager at http://www.textaloan.org.uk/

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  • January 20, 2016 at 9:40 am
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    Like TV there can only be one winner in each region competing with the BBC for local news. In the digital world there can only be one winner per region. In the North East there is probably only TM who could for example buy up ailing brands like Hpl Mail, Shields Gazette and Sld Echo and combine with Jnl/Chron into one digital news service covering the whole of the NE.

    The same could be done in the NW and so on. There really can be only one winner in the digital world. Using skeleton staff, stringers and community news writers (preferably trained) the numbers just might stack up. Having lots of websites covering a region is counter productive – in some areas JP is competing with itself.

    The only problem with this sell off is who on earth will buy them. it wasn’t so long ago that TM tried and fail to sell the Bhm Mail for buttons.

    It is fairly clear that along with the share price, fresh redundancies and the general negative progress over last few years the company is heading for complete collapse.

    Although eventually all will be digi there is probably a few years left to run a quality free print weekly in a decent sized conurbation and make decent money. If you look across the country where there are tightly run quality publications in niche areas they appear to be still making money.

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  • January 20, 2016 at 9:54 am
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    Ashley received a reported £1.6m ‘package’ last year. Over £30,000 a week. More than the average journalist’s annual salary. Food for thought!!

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  • January 20, 2016 at 10:17 am
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    Sorry? Have I missed the point Surrey Sharon?
    Anyway, moving on
    Percy Hoskins
    Sorry but you need to accept that the world has moved on, this is the 21st century not the 1950s and the quaint and idealistic notion of a paper such as yours is wonderful but it’s just not going to happen in today’s world with quality content being sacrificed to profit and cost reductions, businesses aren’t the target readers and I don’t think that’s what hub dweller is saying , the point surely is that without a vast sustainable readership of local people to give an audience that local businesses might want to advertise their wares to your paper would fold in double quick time , where’s the cost model to fund this idea? unless you know of a wealthy benefactor happy to finance your dream and who can fund all that’s needed to produce it then it really won’t happen.
    Quality local lifestyle magazines are thriving when done well as they focus on the things the regional press cast aside years ago; unique content,quality editorial , great photos, the best staff,customer focus and reaching an audience not catered for by the paper groups in their attempts to grab the whole market, they’ve become masters of one sector as opposed to RPs Jack of all approach.

    I’m not sure if you’re currently working in the regional press but how people access news has changed from the days of buying the local daily and weekly to get the news to a time when people want it as it happens, with live updates and feeds often accompanied by video even down to the most local news level
    The idea of a traditional news paper being an essential part of daily life is as outdated as steam engines and we can’t turn back the tide to the heydays of the British regional press, oh that we could.

    What we have are the facts based on what evidence we have to go on and that clearly indicates local news papers are dying and have no longevity meaning the owners have to diversify into niche markets , develop more profitable areas or close, there’s no other option they can’t continue on this downward spiral losing money and racking up costs.
    Never nice to pour cold water on a dream but that’s all this Quaint idea for a paper of yours is unless you or anyone you know has sufficient funds to make it happen in which case I wish you well.

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  • January 20, 2016 at 11:36 am
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    Surely they’ll struggle to find willing buyers for the failing titles that they wish to sell? What then happens if nobody buys?

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  • January 20, 2016 at 12:29 pm
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    Nearly right Richard – there are a few totally independent titles ran on a v small staff in tight knit communities that are making money and will continue to do so for the next 5 to 10 years as their readers literally die but plenty of people still want to read a paper if it is quality and relevant in this interim period. JP et al made errors of judgement in their timings.

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  • January 20, 2016 at 12:43 pm
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    Richard, I am no luddite. I work for a large newspaper as an online editor, so I know about new tech. When people speak of the young they think teenagers or 20s, I think people in their 40s.
    I am not suggesting you simply ignore the web, but at the moment the web is not making any money – print still carries the day (for now).
    Print should be realigned as a “luxury” product appealing to ABC1 market. Most locals still aim for people living on council estates (I don’t mean that to sound snobbish, it’s just I’d argue it’s the wrong market these days).
    You need to appeal to the same people that estate agents want; that services want; that car dealers want; that restaurateurs want. And that doesn’t necessary mean you simply suck up to them.
    Online, still useful. The print edition can, and should, drive people to the website. Who knows in 20 years time we may even have found a way to make the web pay!

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  • January 25, 2016 at 11:19 am
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    I work for a weekly title that’s still independently owned and run by a local family more than 100 years after it was founded. It stands on its own and isn’t part of any group.

    So far, we seem to be doing okay. Things aren’t perfect but we still have a newsdesk of five reporters for a patch where our main town has only 12,000 or so residents. We also have a high street office and three subs who lay pages out the old-fashioned way.

    We have a very strict policy of prioritising stories by newsworthiness, not availability (i.e. we’ll never just turn around a press release for the sake of filling space) and reporters are expected to bring in loads of off-diary stuff every week.

    On the day we come out, you’ll see loads of people walking around town with their copy or nipping into newsagents’ to buy one. People may like to take the odd dig at us but we’re basically very well-read, respected and profitable.

    It’s tough work but it certainly doesn’t feel like a dying business – we get a decent bonus once or twice a year, decent mileage expenses, an annual festive do at a relatively upmarket venue and so forth.

    So on the one hand, I’m tempted to say that more newspapers could survive under independent ownership with a strong, empowered editor. By maintaining our editorial quality, we get a high readership and that makes ad space an attractive prospect. I’d like to think we’re proof that papers aren’t doomed.

    But on the other hand, our area is a somewhat rare case. It’s small and very close-knit with a more elderly demographic. It is ethnically and culturally homogenous and pretty affluent to boot. I don’t know whether the same model would work in more diverse, young and vibrant urban areas.

    Despite our apparent success, I’m still spending much of my spare time learning various web design and development skills (HTML, CSS, Java etc) in case the proverbial hits the fan in my thus-far comfortable neck of the woods.

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