Johnston completes £17m title sell-off

Hannah Jordan
Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Johnston Press has completed the disposal of 13 of its print titles and associated websites to Cambridge-based Iliffe Media.

The deal was announced in mid-December but it was subject to approval from Johnston Press shareholders, which was granted at a general meeting held on 11 January.

Under the terms of the agreement family-run Illife Media will take over the 13 titles of Johnston Press’ East Anglia division, including their associated editions and websites, with printing being split across the Cambridge-based business’s two sites from next week. 

The full divestment includes Bury Free Press, the Local (Bourne), Diss Express, Fenland Citizen, Lincolnshire Free Press, Grantham Journal, Haverhill Echo, Lynn News, Newmarket Journal, Rutland Times, Suffolk Free Press, Spalding Guardian and Stamford Mercury.  

Iliffe Media chief executive Edward Iliffe said: “We are delighted to have concluded the acquisition of these well-respected local newspapers.

“Iliffe Media, with its long heritage as an independent family-run media business, firmly believes in the future of local newspaper publishing across all platforms and we now look forward to working in a positive way with our new colleagues and the communities they serve.”

The disposal, for which the Yorkshire Post and i newspaper publisher will bank a cash sum of £16m after costs, comes almost six months after the group sold its three Isle of Man titles to Tindle Newspapers for £4.25m. The sales form part of the group's debt reduction strategy announced alongside its January 2016 trading update, in which it was stated a number of titles had been earmarked for disposal in an effort to drive down its millions of pounds of debt.

Chief executive Ashley Highfield called the latest deal “a major milestone” in the group’s divestment strategy and would help refocus the business on “areas with the greatest growth potential in our selected geographic markets, audience profile and digital growth areas”.

Meanwhile, news outlets including The Daily Telegraph and This is Money have reported in the last few days that activist investor and Johnston Press' largest share holder, Crystal Amber, could be planning an attempt to replace Highfield as chief executive in an effort to reverse the group's performance.  

At the time of going to press Johnston's share price, which more than halved in 2016, was 16.4p. (52 week high: 47p, low: 8p). 

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