Johnston Press to Look for a New Chief Executive

The publishers of The Scotsman, Johnston Press, is looking for a new chief executive, following news that current incumbent, John Fry, has announced he is to stand down in March next year.

The announcement comes on the back of the group – which also owns numerous local newspaper titles in Scotland – announcing that, last year, it made a pre-tax profit of £16.5 million, in contrast to a loss of £113.8 million the previous year and that – despite a “significant increase in finance costs” – had reduced its debt over the same period from £422.1 million to £386.7 million.

The company issued both underlying and statutory revenue and profit and loss figures, the former calculated before 'non-recurring items', such as acquisitions. Says the company, its underlying operating profit increased for the first time since 2004, from £69.3 million in 2009 to £72 million the following year.

The reverse of a £113.8 million loss to a £16.5 million was part of the company's statutory figures; its underlying figures counterpart was a pre-tax drop of 29.6 per cent, from £43.3 million to £30.5 million. The wide difference in the figures is partly down to the company re-assessing what it thinks it assets are worth. In 2009, it 'wrote down' the value it placed on its assets by £126 million; last year, it was by a further £13 million. In the balance sheet, its assets are currently valued at £907 million.

Among other things, the company said print advertising was down 7.1 per cent (from £256.3 million to £235.8 million) – albeit the decline was slowing down – but digital advertising up 3.2 per cent, to £18.3 million. And that like-for-like newspaper revenue was down 2.8 per cent. Newspaper circulations over the period fell an average 4.7 per cent among the group's weekly titles and an average 7.3 per cent among its daily ones.

It's reported in The Guardian that the company made £30 million in cost savings last year as it “shed about 400 jobs last year and closed a number of free titles”, quoting outgoing finance chief Stuart Paterson saying that the aim this year was to save “in the order of £10 million” to mitigate a 20 per cent surge in newsprint costs and “increased inflationary pressure”.

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