Johnston Hurt in Print And Digital By UK Recruitment Prospects

Ashley Highfield will inherit a troubled Johnston Press when he becomes CEO on November 1.

The local news publisher’s big idea of adding geographic metadata against online news stories to better target ads doesn’t appear to have yet yielded benefit – its digital earnings are running five percent below last year.

Johnston Press runs 273 local news websites, but made just £9.5 million online in the first half of the year, the first period of which was especially hurt by fewer job ads being taken out. But things are now looking up – in the first seven weeks of this year’s second half, digital income is up 6.8 percent from 2010.

Across the group, things look bad. Pre-tax profit has nearly halved in the last year to £13.8 million, on 7.5 percent lower revenue of £191.8 million thanks to those disappearing job ads. To lessen the worst, the publisher goes on cutting costs (another £8.3 million in the last six months, including 179 jobs lost).

And the immediate future looks bleak, with cross-platform ads in the first seven weeks of the year’s second half running 8.1 percent below last year.

Over the last couple of years, Johnston has shored up its digital operations with third-party partnerships. It turned around its birthdays, marriages and deaths site by outsourcing it to iAnnounce. Now it’s calling up Zoopla for property and Nimble Commerce for Groupon-like shopping coupons.

Current CEO John Fry declares himself “cautious” about advertising prospects in the UK. The company last year decided against charging for its newspapers online.

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