Regional publisher Johnston Press has recorded a 16.2m operating profit for the first half of 2017 despite a 3.6pc drop in revenues.
The group’s performance was also bolstered by the i newspaper, which delivered a 28.6pc increase in revenues.
It said that strong growth in digital revenues – up 14.8pc excluding classifieds – helped offset the decline in print revenues.
Circulation revenues, including those from the i, rose by 7.9pc during the period to stand at £39.5m.
However advertising revenues, including both print and digital, were down 11.8pc at £52.5m while classfied revenues fell by 28.9pc.
The group, which owns scores of small weeklies as well as some of the biggest dailies, said its focus on its larger titles was bearing fruit in terms of profits.
“Our focus on the larger titles that have significant print and digital reach in their geographies and communities has resulted in strong profit contributions led by the ‘Nationals’, i.e. The Scotsman, The Newsletter (Northern Ireland) and The Yorkshire Post, and by the ‘big city dailies’ such as The Sheffield Star and the Portsmouth News,” said the report.
Chief executive Ashley Highfield said: In the context of the broader industry trading environment where print classifieds in particular are in continued significant structural decline, we are focused on creating a business for the future.
“This is a business which we have long believed needed to transform, but once done, could return to growth. Thus, since 2012 we have been making the necessary and at times painful changes to transform Johnston Press into a truly cross-platform business.
“Whilst trading remains challenging, the business has responded and, as a result of our substantial efforts and clear strategic focus, I am very pleased to announce that we have posted revenue growth in the business (excluding classifieds) of 4.6pc during the half.
“Digital revenues (excluding classifieds) have outweighed the declines of print advertising revenues, helped by an editorial focus that has resulted in digital audiences at a record high, and by a fantastic performance from the i newspaper which has achieved significantly enhanced performance during the sixteen months since acquisition.”
The Johnston Press group chapel of the National Union of Journalists has issued a statement in response to the figures.
It said: “Today’s results show Johnston Press has withstood significant challenges to remain profitable after reducing costs and increasing revenues in parts of the business. We hope the company recognises the need to focus on the morale and wellbeing of its workforce if this is to be maintained.
“Our members are facing a pay freeze between now and the end of the year, piling further pressure on their finances as wages fall behind the cost of living. We are also witnessing high levels of stress and workloads, because of understaffing. We look forward to continuing our dialogue with management on how these issues will be addressed.”
Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, added: “We will be asking management to look again at the pay freeze our members are facing, particularly in light of RPI inflation running at 3.5 per cent and recent fuel price increases. Matching the positive slant on these results with concrete action over the issues our members are facing would be a good step forward.”