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John Fry to step down as Johnston Press boss

Regional publisher Johnston Press has announced chief executive John Fry is to step down.

Mr Fry, who has been in post since January 2009 will leave the company by March next year and the process has now been started to find his replacement.

The announcement by the group said he had ‘notified the Board of his intention to step down from his role by March 2012, thereby providing sufficient time to facilitate a smooth handover to his successor’.

Mr Fry was previously chief executive at regional publisher Archant and took over from former JP boss Tim Bowdler.

He told the company’s internal magazine The Word: “I would like to have more time to spend on personal projects and with my family, and the flexibility to introduce an element of plurality into my business life.

“The main message is that I’m still around. I will be continuing in my role for up to 12 months. The recruitment process has started now and there will be a further announcement in due course.”

The move came as JP published its preliminary financial results for 2010, which showed the company saw its underlying pre-tax profits fall 29.6pc, from £43.3m in 2009 to £30.5m.

However, the group’s operating profit was up 3.9pc to £72m for 2010, which the company’s statement said was the first underlying operating profit increase, excluding acquisitions, since 2004.

Revenue for the year was down 6pc from £423.7m in 2009 to £398.1m last year but the statement said this had been offset because it had cut costs by £30.1m during the year, while its statement last year showed the publisher reduced costs by nearly £50m in 2009.

The statement said print advertising was down 7.1pc in 2010 and was declining at a slower rate than previously but the last quarter of the year was hit by public spending cuts.

It showed there was a continued growth in digital advertising, which was up 4pc on a like-for-like basis.

The results also highlighted that advertising revenues for the first nine weeks of this year were down 11.4pc.

During 2010, the group managed to reduce its net debt by £35.4m to £386.7m.

JP chairman Ian Russell said: “The pace and consistency of the economic recovery remains uncertain and this is reflected in a weaker start to 2011 than we had anticipated.

“Nevertheless, much of the Group’s work in 2010 was concentrated on improving systems and technology and making processes more efficient.

“Given the Group’s historic strengths and presence in the many communities it serves, our opportunity now is to be innovative in growing revenues both from traditional and new sources and capitalising on the economic recovery when it gathers pace.”

Mr Fry’s announcement comes after the company last week appointed Grant Murray as its new financial chief to replace Stuart Paterson who is retiring later this month.

20 comments

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  • March 9, 2011 at 9:32 am
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    Best wishes John, you’ll be missed by the staff you never quite managed to get rid of.

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  • March 9, 2011 at 10:24 am
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    Fry has done a wonderful job. To ascertain his legacy at Johnston Press see how far the local newspapers will have flourished in five years time. Fry is a friend of journalism – I will never forget him arriving at our newspaper offices and not knowing the name nor location of the JP sister newspaper 10 miles down the road! How we laughed!

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  • March 9, 2011 at 10:51 am
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    Funny that! I was a cub reporter many years ago now when former MD Tim Bowdler made a visit to our newspaper office. Introducing someone he was with to some of the staff, he didn’t even bother to ask my name, only addressing me as a “reporter”!

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  • March 9, 2011 at 11:00 am
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    While recognising we have to face economic realities, JP has slashed staff levels to untenable levels leaving a lot of papers running constantly at crisis point, certainly in the north at least. It would be nice to think that at some time in the future we might have someone who cares about journalism in the higher levels of JP rather than bean counting.

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  • March 9, 2011 at 11:30 am
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    I’d like to see any of you lot do a better job than John Fry.

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  • March 9, 2011 at 11:35 am
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    I’d love the chance to have a go – and earn more than £1m a year in bonuses in the process!

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  • March 9, 2011 at 11:35 am
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    Hatchet job done. Now for the golden handshake and a lucrative job at PA. In his latter years perhaps he will remember the old saying – there’s no pillow so soft as a clear conscience.

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  • March 9, 2011 at 11:39 am
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    Hard to see what else John Fry could have done given that he inherited a company with such massive debts. Some of these comments would be better directed at his predecessor for having allowed that situation to develop in the first place.

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  • March 9, 2011 at 12:09 pm
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    sorry- no-one on earth should be taking home a million pound bonus. Relate that tonurses and surgeons pay, think who is more useful, and decide if it is obscene.

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  • March 9, 2011 at 12:42 pm
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    John Fry’s words of wisdom Part 1: “If you want 500 words, how about the reporter writing 500 words, rather than writing 1,000, and giving it to a second person to cut it?” He knows how it’s done doesn’t he! Maybe he could become a journalist after?

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  • March 9, 2011 at 1:58 pm
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    Whilst it is true that Fry came to a company burdened by the ludicrous spend, spend, spend Bowdler Black Hole of Debt (which ineffective, but well paid non-exec’ directors should have capped), he has done little to reduce that debt level over and above that which any half competent chief exec could have. He did pull off his one party trick, also used previously at Archant, of getting rid of sub-editors and replacing them with half baked desktop publishing software, which produced results which would shame a playgroup newsletter, and lost hundreds of skilled journalists to boot. Oh yes, and he disowned journalists when NUJ members tried to strike in protest about ATEX desktop publishing (so sorry, it’s more jumped up than that, so it’s called a ‘content management system’). Read the last JP annual report, and the newspaper publisher makes not one single reference to ‘journalist’, just ‘editorial. It’s that laughable. During almost Fry’s brief tenure, ‘editorial’ and other staff have been under an imposed, near 2 year long pay freeze, effectively making ‘his’ cost savings for him. That and many losing their jobs. No doubt it will be revealed that Fry will enjoy a fine bonus on top of his £500,000 pay, for making these savings. Mind you, the £35m reduction of company debt is a bit like paying off the compulsory fiver off your credit card bill. So all in all, his time at JP has been less of a Fry up, more of a dog’s dinner maybe? Lets hope his golden handshake will be in shares…at the price they were when he took over. Still, a million or so in the bank for 2 years uninspiring work ain’t bad. Thats a lifetime’s income for a JP journalist, errr, editorial input/output content management unit. Based on previous stories on HTFP, the next JP chief exec’ may possibly be a Trinity Mirror one.

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  • March 9, 2011 at 2:15 pm
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    Making his annual tour at Archant he visited its London newspaper group and banged on at length about the success of the group’s regional mags. Never mentioned newspapers or journalism once his thrilling 90 minute speech.

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  • March 9, 2011 at 3:22 pm
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    My only regret is that his demise as chief exec didn’t come, say, in February 2009, before he turned a profession into shelf-stacking production line. And why on Earth is he being allowed to stick around until March next year. Surely the company needs a chief executive of his callibre less than it needs sub-editors. And why give hime time do any more damage?

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  • March 9, 2011 at 3:27 pm
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    If you seek his monument, look around…a heap of ruined, irrelevant, out-of-date evening newspapers (mis)managed by a phalanx of jobsworths. Pass the sick bag, Atex!

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  • March 10, 2011 at 10:57 am
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    I hope he’s read this – this is what EVERYONE thinks Fry. Mind you, if I was going to spend the rest of my days bobbing about on cruise holidays I don’t think I’d give a toss either.

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  • March 10, 2011 at 4:20 pm
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    Not surprised he’s off after what he and his mates have done. The big worry is the new finance guy … isn’t he the one who destroyed the Guardian group?

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  • March 15, 2011 at 3:15 pm
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    As my last post has been removed, I will rephrase: The one good thing Fry has done is to change the Regional MD who was based at The Yorkshire Post building, well done John I think people will know who I mean!

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  • March 15, 2011 at 4:50 pm
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    Call him Shallow Fry – he’s frazzled JP to a crisp and leaves it assaulted and battered. “Just like the union said he would the axeman came in dancing his psychopathic prancing chopped out the heart of news” (with apologies to John Tams)

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  • March 16, 2011 at 12:33 pm
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    Given JP’s serious financial position surely it should be going for a policy of non replacement for John Fry. His duties could be shared around the other directors. After all that’s the policy that the newspapers have had to live with – the only difference is that JP could save £1m or more a year in one go! And nobody would miss him (John Fry).

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