Monday 19 February 2018

Johnston Press set to sell off Irish division at a loss

Ashley Highfield, Chief executive officer of Johnston Press, pictured at a conference on Local Press at DCU last year.
Ashley Highfield, Chief executive officer of Johnston Press, pictured at a conference on Local Press at DCU last year.
Sarah McCabe

Sarah McCabe

PUBLISHING group Johnston Press has confirmed it is in "advanced discussions" to sell its Irish newspaper division.

A disposal is likely to be for a fraction of what the British-based group paid to build up its regional newspaper group here in the last decade.

The group's 14 Irish titles include the 'Leinster Leader', the 'Kilkenny People' and the 'Leitrim Observer'. It employs about 140 people in Ireland.

The group's Northern Irish titles are not thought to be involved.

While cautioning that no deal had been finalised, the company said the sale price would be €8.5m – representing a massive loss for the group, which paid about €300m to enter the Irish market in 2005.

The interested buyer is Mediaforce owner Malcolm Denmark.

The possible sale is the latest move by debt-laden Johnston Press, which last year reduced its overall headcount by more than 23pc to 4,350. Its pre-tax profits fell 55pc to €14.8m during the year, as advertising revenue slumped 12.7pc to €149m.

It introduced a voluntary severance scheme at its Irish newspapers last October.

The company said it would create "editorship clusters" by appointing joint editors for the 'Leitrim Observer' and 'Longford Leader', and the 'Leinster Express' and 'Leinster Leader'.

The group has also standardised the design of some of its newspapers.

Under chief executive Ashley Highfield, the company has radically changed its business model. Some newspapers have shifted from daily to weekly publication and rely on their websites to run breaking news.

Media expert Robbie Smyth, a journalism lecturer at Griffith College, Dublin, said the move could be a good one for some of Ireland's best-loved local newspapers.

"There is definitely an audience in Ireland for local papers and for free-sheets with a good online presence. But they need to be debt-free and have room to grow. In an ideal situation, Mediaforce might sell some of the titles on to other more local owners."

Irish Independent

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