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Highfield: Johnston Press aiming to make ‘more acquisitions’

Ashley-Highfield2-e1401302531277Johnston Press is aiming to make “more acquisitions” and has no plans to sell any newspaper titles, according to Ashley Highfield.

The regional publisher’s chief executive, pictured left, says the company is “more likely to be buying than we are to be selling” once the business has been restructured.

Over recent years JP has paid off tens of millions of pounds worth of debt accumulated during the 1990s when it bought up scores of UK newspaper titles, but it still has £220m worth of bonds due to be repaid by 2019.

JP bought the i newspaper last year, but has also sold a number of regional titles to Iliffe and Tindle in recent months.

Ashley was quizzed about whether the company planned to sell of any further titles in an appearance on The Media Show on BBC Radio 4.

He told presenter Amol Rajan: “We have no plans to sell off anything at the moment and indeed I would love to make more acquisitions, and one of the reasons for getting the debt sorted on the business is so that we can start to look at more investments.

“If it were a position after we have restructured the business we are more likely to be buying than we are to be selling.”

Ashley also told the BBC that in August The Scotsman had become JP’s first title to see its advertising revenue come equally from print and digital.

He said: “There is an absolute long-term future in news brands regionally both in print and online but the future is to build our biggest assets, those big websites in cities like Sheffield where we have something like a million unique users.

“There should be no business in Sheffield that doesn’t use the Sheffield Star’s website and the editor there has done a fantastic job with the team over the last year of building that website by 50 per cent.

“This is a growth industry the trouble is people in the industry are way too focused on declining print whereas actually overall audiences are growing very strongly and as the example of the Scotsman, actually as more and more of the advertising spend moves to digital we can get this business back to growth. Large sections of our business, take the Midlands for instance, are in growth year on year.”

Ashley added: “There is no silver bullet in this industry what we’ve got to do is focus on building our digital products whilst trying to preserve print circulation and that we’re doing.”

His comments come after a planned takeover by Christen Ager-Hanssen, who owns 12.6pc of JP, hit a snag earlier this week following the discovery of a bondholder agreement clause, which means any attempt to appoint three or more new directors would necessitate the company’s £220m debt being repaid.

Christen previously told HTFP he sees former Local World boss Steve Auckland as a “potential CEO”, putting Ashley’s position under threat.


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  • October 27, 2017 at 12:14 pm

    Cloud cuckoo land. The whole company is worth £13m as I write this. As for the debt reduction didn’t News International buy out of their printing contract for £30m a few years ago and JP forced shareholders to stump up £140m with the rights issue?
    I can’t see JP refinance without Christen Ager-Hanssen negotiating the bond which is £220 to be repaid in June 2019, with a 8.625% interest rate. Company profits were down 17% in the first half of this year, I’m just thankful I’m not a shareholder or member or staff. Tough times ahead for everyone involved with JP.

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  • October 27, 2017 at 6:47 pm

    I bet JP workers are throwing a party right now.
    Anyone remember the Scotsman?

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  • October 29, 2017 at 8:52 am

    Might I suggest Mr Teflon might acquire something useful like some proper editing staff and some reporters who know their stuff. The burden is too great on the rump left after the job losses to produce good quality papers or websites.

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  • October 30, 2017 at 11:26 am

    Good Morning Mr Highfield JP is a company that is worth £13 million on paper and falling fast
    I see that you pay yourself upwards of £2- 3 million a year
    Other Directors salaries are paid in excess of £6.5 million a year
    I also see you have no assets due to JP selling them all off previously
    I also notice you have hardly any advertisers advertising in your papers
    You also have hardly any journalists left to write stories as you got rid of them and also got rid of Sales Staff to generate more advertising
    You have also Re Hired past directors as Consultants on massive consultancy fees
    You purchased the i for 24 million pounds to generate more advertising revenue ….. great idea that

    You think this is a bank managers worst nightmare no its reality !

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  • October 30, 2017 at 12:56 pm

    I’m thinking of buying Manchester United. I’ve got no money but the Nationwide gave me a mortgage once so it’s almost a done deal. Are you in, Ash?

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  • October 30, 2017 at 8:44 pm

    As neglected print revenue falls, so the much loved digital revenue appears to grow, yet websites make pennies.
    And the dirty secret of local newspaper webstes is many ‘users’ are ex-pats of the local area, checking in to see whats happening where they used to live, so advertising a local business is a little (no, make that, very) pointless. Print buyers are genuinely local and worthwhile targets for advertising.
    Very sad to see a CEO far more interested in making acquisitions rather than investing in existing titles(that means staff), clearly showing no interest whatsoever in quality journalism, merely revenue. Local readers and buyers expect more and better in their local newspapers, so the downward spiral continues.
    But with millionaire management, getting richer every year, there is little incentive to do anything but manage the decline, safe in the knowledge they personally have plenty in the bank, and look good enough on the way to pick up another CEO job when the business fails.

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  • October 31, 2017 at 3:41 pm

    JP’s CEO is not to blame as he clearly knows very little about local media. The fault lies with the people who gave him the job. His board have absolutely ruined the local press in this country by thinking advertisers will be happy to deal with a call centre!. Any year 10 school child doing business studies knows that face to face selling is by far the best way to do business and phone selling is the biggest turn off.

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