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Digital boss who built "Today" network bows out

A media executive who built up Johnston Press’s £15m a year online news operation from scratch has said he could never have foreseen how fast it would grow.

John Bradshaw, left, is retiring this week after 12 years as the regional press publisher’s head of digital publishing.

He told HoldtheFrontPage that when the group’s digital operation first started out in 1996, it was little more than a marketing tool to give potential advertisers information about ad rates.

But in the 12 years since then, John and his team have launched more than 300 full interactive newspaper websites under the “Today” brand which now contribute £15m a year in revenue to the group as a whole.

“When we first started looking at it, I thought it was exciting and I thought it was going to be a great opportunity, but I don’t think any of us saw the rapid growth of the internet that would come.

“In those early days, computer penetration was relatively low and focused around London but broadband has changed that considerably. The growth of broadband has brought the growth of our internet sites a long way as well.”

The first site to be launched by John and his team was Chad Online, website of the Mansfield Chronicle Advertiser (“Chad”) in 1998.

John said Mansfield was deliberately chosen because computer penetration outside London was patchy and the group wanted to assess what the demand for online news would be from weekly newspaper readers.

At first the sites carried only news and sport but separate jobs, motors and property sections soon followed.

Other landmark changes since then have seen the addition of story comments in 2006, and video, first launched on the Preston-based Lancashire Evening Post site later the same year.

John began his career by launching a series of free newspapers in the 1970s, before selling them to emap in early 1980.

He was made managing director of the Peterborough Evening Telegraph in 1985, and group MD of Thomson Free Newspapers in 1989.

In 1993 he re-joined emap, and set up the digital division when Johnston Press acquired the media group’s local newspapers in 1996.

He now intends to start a small media consultancy, and also to do some fishing.