A senior executive of Microsoft has been appointed as the new chief executive of regional publisher Johnston Press, it was announced today.
As a former director of new media and technology at the BBC, Mr Highfield oversaw the launch of the BBC iPlayer and was editor of BBC Online.
His appointment may be seen by analysts as a bid to move JP more clearly in the direction of digital media, following its abortive experiment with online paywalls last year.
A graduate of City University business school, Mr Highfield started his career with the management consultancy Coopers and Lybrand and has also worked as managing director of Flextech Interactive, now part of Virgin Media.
As vice-president of Microsoft he has had responsibility for its UK consumer and online business, including content portal Microsoft News (MSN).
Johnston Press chairman Ian Russell said: “I am delighted to announce Ashley’s appointment. His combined online and media sector pedigree will be a major strength in enabling us to grow our business again.
“On behalf of the board I would also like to thank John for his major contribution to the Company and wish him well for the future.”
Mr Highfield is to be given a ‘golden hello’ of £500,000 in JP shares on joining the company as part of its long-term incentive programme.
Mr Fry announced he was standing down from the chief executive’s role earlier this year, after just over two years in the job.
At the time, he said he intended to step down by March 2012.