Struggles for Johnston Press continue as Salmond seeks chairman job

By Max Goldbart, Monday 06 November 2017

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Johnston Press has reported continued struggles with classified advertising and has also seen former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond launch a bid to become chairman.

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Salmond lost his seat at the 2017 General Election. Image: Creative Commons

In a trading update for Q3 2017 issued on Thursday (2 November), the group, which publishes around 300 newspapers, said that it remained confident that trading for the full year would be in line with expectations but that total group revenue, including classifieds, was down 7% on the same period last year, an increase of 1% over its Q2 performance.

Reports also emerged last week that a bid from Norwegian venture capitalist Christen Ager-Hanssen for the group would see former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond installed as chairman.

Salmond, who lost his seat at the 2017 General Election, said that the plan, which would see Johnston chief executive Ashley Highfield replaced by former ESI Media Group chief executive Steve Auckland as chief executive, would not give him editorial control but that the papers would be “champions of the communities they represent”.

Once again, sales of the i newspaper continued to see an upsurge, with like-for-like revenues increasing 17% and print advertising up 14%, while the newly relaunched iWeekend has seen a circulation boost in its first three weeks. 

Across the group, print advertising revenue was down 8%, with classified advertising described as “remaining very challenging”. While circulation revenues were down 4%, contract print was up 8%, after Johnston and Trinity Mirror inked a new multi-year contract print deal that will extend the deal up to 2020.

Digital revenue also saw a like-for-like boost of 16%, a 3% increase on Q2.

Highfield said: "Our key strategic priorities of continuing the success of the i newspaper and growing digital revenues have both shown strong gains during the period.” 

Johnston also provided an update about the major strategic review it embarked upon in March, to find a solution to the looming repayment of £220m in high-yield bonds, which mature in June 2019. 

It said that on 10 October it approached its largest bondholders to form a bondholder committee to consider in greater detail certain amendments to the group’s capital structure, which it expects to progress over the coming weeks with the aim of further updating the market in due course. 

“A significant amount of work is being done on the strategic review of financing options and we are pleased with progress to date," added Highfield.

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