Invite issued to Johnston Press staff to share ideas with new chief executive

STAFF at the publishers of The Scotsman newspaper are being invited to share their ideas about the business to the newly-appointed chief executive.

Says an interview with Ashley Highfield, in the weekly online in-house magazine of Johnston Press: “[He] joins Johnston Press with bags of ideas but he also wants to hear how employees see the business. And he’ll listen. He is relaxed, approachable, brimming with enthusiasm and clearly relishing the challenges ahead. The biggest of those, the one that has been perplexing Johnston Press and other players in the industry – how to make more money from digital products – is one of the main reasons the job appealed.”

The former Microsoft vice-president is quoted as saying: “I’m not one of those who subscribe to the theory that we are on an inexorable glide path into oblivion. There’s no reason to believe we have to accept ever declining numbers of readers. There comes a point at which you become relevant to a new audience. One of the exciting challenges is how you educate a younger audience, who only consume online, and get them to fall in love with newspapers.

“In our industry, the amount of information you can easily scan and absorb by reading a newspaper cannot be duplicated online. I subscribe to The Sunday Times and I also have the Sunday Times app. But the app would never be a substitute for the newspaper: I would use them together.”

After looking through 100 or so websites that reflect Johnston Press’s 250-plus newspaper titles, he is further quoted, as saying: “The big question is what could they be? How can they be more of the digital campfire around which the voices gather in a community?”

He adds: “One of the things that excites me is where we take our websites from here and what other digital products we launch over time.”

And continues: “It’s an old cliché that content is king but it’s a cliché because it’s true and what Johnston Press has got is some awesome journalism and incredibly strong relationships in communities. The opportunities for an organisation that is, in many towns up and down this country, the only trusted brand, trusted with business and trusted with the audience, are limitless.”

Later in the interview, he says: “We’ve hardly started down the road of apps and one of the reasons I took this job is because I see local media becoming more important, not less important. As more and more people access the internet through devices like iPads and Smartphones – which know their users’ location – I think we’re at the beginning of a point in history where really local content becomes more relevant, more useful and more used.”

He bought around £35,000 worth of Johnston Press shares before joining the company and says he will continue to invest his own money. “I didn’t join the company without a strong belief that we’re going to be able to start growing in the right direction.

“Obviously, I have a lot of ideas about that but I’ll keep my powder dry until I’ve had a chance to talk to a lot of people. My next few weeks will be getting out and about, visiting the regions and starting to really understand the issues on the ground and what ideas people have got.”

The 46 year-old holds two non-executive roles – on the boards of William Hill and the British Film Institute.

And his message to staff? “I believe there is a huge amount of hope and reason to be optimistic about the future of Johnston Press. The staff are going to have to take that on trust from me initially but hopefully over time they will start to really believe what I believe, that we can make this migration to a hybrid print and digital business. Yes, that will mean changes in the way we work but it will hopefully make it a really positive and interesting business for the future.”