Slide Deck: Can Johnston Press re-invent local news for digital?

The UK’s troubled number-two local news publisher has vowed to launch national websites for pet shows, bonny baby contests, football fans and more, as part of new CEO Ashley Highfield’s big digital and transformation strategy.

Johnston Press, which operates sites for each of its 238 local newspapers, has fallen in to a mess. Trying to chip away at £352 million in debt, on Wednesday it swung to a £143.8 million annual loss, as it wrote £163.7 million off its newspapers’ value and nearly a tenth of its advertising dried up.

Even digital ad sales grew just 0.7 percent over the last year despite a 50 percent larger audience. Shares fell further, to a paltry £0.05, in morning trading.

But that appears a reaction to the results rather than to the positive new future strategy, which Johnston has been sorely lacking for years and which former BBC and Microsoft online executive Highfield, who has been hinting at it for weeks, presented in full along with the numbers.

At the same time, Johnston unveiled football news mobile apps for 10 of its titles and said it is adopting Salesforce for ad sales and Google Apps for email.

But that is just the start…

Highlights: Johnston Press’ 2020 targets:

  • Content creation must be split 50/50 between journalists and audience (currently 90/10).
  • Print/digital revenue must be 50/50 (currently 95/5).
  • “Substantially increase (digital) revenue” – from £18 million in 2011 to £52 million by 2015.
  • Digital ARPU must hit £10 per year (currently £2.30).
  • All 220 weekly titles must go “digital-first”, some of 18 dailies will be turned weekly.
  • Newspaper relaunches (£2 million): new designs, some dailies to go weekly, digital-first workflow
  • Subscriptions must rise from three percent of revenue to 50 percent.
  • Centralised production.
  • “Mobile will be the key growth channel.”
  • National as well as local – Johnston will tap related content across its local publishing network to create new vertical content businesses for the whole UK.
  • Increase some print prices.

Johnston revealed that some national-level portals already under development include those for entertainment guides and listings, football site, archive photos, all comprising content from across its local sites.

Others may include for wedding events, pet shows, outdoor pursuit expos and mother-and-baby competitions – a parochial staple of local newspapers.