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Publisher vows to reduce ‘dependency on news’ after recent closures

David MontgomeryA regional publisher says it is aiming to reduce its “dependency on news” after closing three print titles in recent weeks.

But National World has revealed it is “actively pursuing” potential additions to its portfolio after posting an adjusted operating profit of £5.7m for the first half of 2022.

Group chairman David Montgomery has also stated the company plans to “re-skill” its workforce in order to focus on “original content that can be monetised”.

The announcement of the strategy comes amid a restructure that has created around 30 new digital journalism roles, although a similar number of editorial posts are to be made redundant across the group.

The company has now also confirmed the closure of the Brighton Indy, with editor Nicola Caines taking voluntary redundancy as part of the restructure, while the Ballymena Times and Banbridge Leader have also merged into the Coleraine Times and Ulster Star respectively.

Commenting on the latest financial results, Mr Montgomery, pictured, said: “We have had a strong first half for 2022 despite the uncertain economic environment.

“Investment in digital content and development has been increased to transform the business for growth whilst driving efficiencies to manage the challenges presented by the economy.

“The transformation is underpinned by re-skilling of the workforce to reduce dependency on news by widening the agenda with original content that can be monetised. Automation will also increase efficiency as we transition the business.

“The creation of this new model, and the recent expansion into a UK-wide market, means that management can target specific acquisitions, several of which are being actively pursued.”

In its results for the six months ended 2 July 2022, National World recorded a year-on-year increase in operating profit of 36pc, while the group had a cash balance of £25.7m at the end of the period.

Overall print publishing revenue declined by 3pc from £35.6m to £34.6m, but digital publishing revenue was up 41pc from £5.8m to £8.2m.

Revealing more about the new editorial strategy, National World said there will be an “enhanced focus” on developing newsletters, premium content, sports – in particular football – and “increased consumer content” for its city ‘World’ portfolio of websites.

The transition is being overseen by a digital steering group chaired by non-executive director John Rowe, who has a “strong record” as an online entrepreneur and in retail.

A report accompanying the group’s results states: “The main pillars of the DSG are to focus on the lifetime value of the customer, providing premium content across a wider agenda of information, entertainment and specialist subjects that can be monetised effectively.

“To achieve this our workforce is being re-skilled and the transition to a fully automated and digitised production process will finally release a significant number of staff from industrial processes. The online initiatives include long overdue self-serve platforms for both contributors and advertisers.

“The first decisive move to separate online as a distinct and standalone business has taken place with the City World division. This started with seven new launches into London, Birmingham, Bristol, Liverpool, Newcastle and Manchester.

“To this is added Leeds, Edinburgh and Sheffield, creating a pure online division – together with The three heritage newspaper brands related to the latter three cities will now be relaunched to ensure they remain relevant and attractive to readers.

“The result will be that the ‘World’ division becomes the fastest growing in the largest markets with an emphasis on video, sport and city life – all content areas that have enjoyed recent growth.

“The positioning of the World division targets the middle market metropolitan consumer, providing reliable content as distinct from the celebrity-based red top market.”

The last edition of the Brighton Indy was published on 3 June, while the two Northern Irish titles were published for the last time on 13 June.

The Indy had a circulation of 376 according to its ABC certificate for May to December 2021,