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Media group gets creative with staff

JP still trying to mould a digital future

Investors in London-based Johnston Press will be hoping for better news as the owner of, among others, The Scotsman titles and Falkirk Herald, unveils annual figures next week. In the meantime the company has taken to giving its staff a few lessons in creativity.

Apparently, journalists at The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday and Edinburgh Evening News have been attending briefings from a management guide involving scissors, pieces of paper and chunks of what were described as Play-Doh, the children’s play material. The results of the exercise are not known.

On Monday, the company is sending senior staff to Leeds to see the newspaper of the future, although it is unlikely to involve plasticine. JP will talk about the digital plans it has for its titles which have suffered similar sales slumps to others in the print world.

In the second half of last year the Yorkshire Evening Post fell 15.7%, the Edinburgh Evening News 12.1%,  The Scotsman 10.8% and the Yorkshire Post 8.9%. A stark reminder of the crisis is the 25% slump in sales of the Doncaster Star to a paltry 871 in a town with a population in excess of 200,000. That’s what happens when readers are offered a slip edition of the Sheffield Star and news they clearly don’t want. Digital or print, content still remains king.

Meanwhile – and amid vague internet chatroom gossip of a merger with another regional publisher – Panmure Gordon today issued a buy note on Johnston Press shares, though maintaining its target price at 265p (currently 164p).

JP chief executive Ashley Highfield continues to push the ‘digital first’ strategy, although The Scotsman still seems unhappy with its website and is trialling alternatives.

The company’s figures come just days before another batch of journalists leave the new Scotsman HQ at Orchard Brae where they have barely had time to get the seats warm.

Mr Highfield told the recent Digital Media Strategies conference in London that the business will have fewer full-time journalists.

“What you end up with is a much more fluid model with contributors producing a larger percentage of the newspaper,” he said.

“That’s not something we can duck. The economics of the digital world are going to mean our businesses can grow, not just survive but grow, but we need to go about things in a different way.

“It doesn’t mean the front of the book or the quality of editorial oversight will be diminished.”

The one-time Edinburgh-based company is aiming to increase the proportion of its revenue from digital advertising from 17% to about 23% in 2015. Mr Highfield said the group is nearing a point at which digital ad revenue was growing four times faster than print declines.

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