The new chief executive of Johnston Press has revealed that the company appointed him after deciding its future lay “beyond print.”
Former Microsoft vice-chairman Ashley Highfield took over the role at the regional publishing giant in the autumn despite having had no previous newspaper experience.
Speaking to media pundit Ray Snoddy he said: “The board had already made the decision that the future of Johnston Press lay in moving the organisation beyond print and that was explained to me in the first sentence.
“Not closing down print but moving beyond an almost entirely solus print operation,” he added.
Ashley, who is also a former head of technology at the BBC, stopped short of setting out a fully-fledged digital strategy, responding “watch this space” when asked about online paywalls.
He stressed he would be looking at what medium is most relevant, possibly even choosing different routes to the consumer at different times of the day and for different types of content.
“If we can get over that we are a disseminator of information whether that means print, online, iPads, phones and possibly even local television, that is the cultural shift that has to be made,” he said.
“The fundamental thing is understanding our audience needs and meeting those with the right content in the right place and the right medium at the right time.”
In the interview, carried in this week’s InPublishing magazine, Ashley also set out his ambitions for the next three years, vowing to confound those who claim newspapers are a “sunset industry.”
“I think within three years, I would expect all our titles, our brands to have a healthy, growing audience when looked at across print and online and to be profitable”, he said.
He said it was a mistake for observers to assume that declining profits in the regional press means there is no demand for local and regional news, but said the challenge was “making sure that content is available cost-effectively in whatever form consumers want to consume it.”