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Weekly reveals return to profit less than six months after closure threat

John HollidayAn independent weekly threatened with closure less than six months ago has revealed it is now back in profit.

The Cumberland & Westmorland Herald says it is on the up again – with its new managing director citing investment in staff and a 50pc cover price rise for its change in fortune.

HTFP reported in February how the Penrith-based Herald had been bought by businessman Andy Barr following a period of administration, saving 22 jobs in the process.

Mr Barr later added the Keswick Reminder to his portfolio and appointed former Sky, Bloomberg and BBC executive John Holliday as MD of both titles.

John, pictured, said of the turnaround: “It’s all about local names, local faces and local places. Readers want to believe in their community, read quality parish pump content.

“I believe that we could go back to a time where every town has its own local newspaper.

“My business philosophy is simple really: Hire the best quality talent you can. That helps you make the best products

“In turn you’ll increase sales and increase profits. It’s a virtuous circle. We have done that and there’s more to come.”

The decision to put the Penrith-based Cumberland & Westmorland Herald into administration was blamed on an increasing deficit in the company’s defined benefits pension scheme and longstanding problems with the regional print media industry.

John’s first decision at the Herald was to increase its cover price from £1 to £1,50, which led to a 2pc drop in sales as opposed to the 8-12pc he had forecasted as a worst-case scenario.

The company is now working on a new technology platform and online product.

On the Herald, John said: “It’s doing really well. It’s back making a profit. The team has worked hard, adapted and innovated.

“We recently published a 40-page broadsheet paper – in three sections that included a farming supplement. It was the first time we’d produced a paper that big in more than 10 years.

“Our strategy is built around growth. Anyone can cut costs but I believe the way you grow a business is through focus, differentiation and cost leadership.

“We’ve hired some excellent talent including a head of digital content, reporter, advertising director and two business development managers.”

Weekly sales of the Reminder have also increased by 22pc.

John said: “I see no reason why we can’t get to 50 per cent in a town with a population of just 5,000.”

He added: “My beliefs comes from 25 years in the media. I believe that media organisations need a deep relationship with the end user, customers, viewers, listeners and readers.

“I have a deep faith in the public that there are millions of people who want high quality content – and are happy to pay for it.

“If you want great news, understand the world, your locality, great drama and great sport, people now realise there is a cost to it.

“You want it, need it. It naturally follows that people will pay for it – but hey, maybe I’m wrong.”