Belfast Telegraph

News Letter owner to fight losses with digital relaunch

By Jamie Grierson

The boss of Johnston Press has pledged to "put digital at the heart" of the business as the UK's second-largest regional newspaper group, which owns the News Letter, swung to a loss last year.

Chief executive Ashley Highfield, a former senior Microsoft employee, said he wants the group's web audience to equal its newspaper circulation as he outlined plans to relaunch all titles in joint digital and print format.

Johnston, which also counts The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post among its publications, posted a £143.8m loss in 2011, compared to a £16.5m profit the previous year, as the group wrote down the book value of its newspapers by more than £160m.

Mr Highfield wants to scale back some daily newspapers to weekly publications as new web, mobile and iPad offerings are developed.

The plans were criticised by Conservative MP Louise Mensch as two Johnston daily newspapers in her constituency will become weeklies.

The company cut just under 670 jobs last year, or 11.3% of its workforce, to bring total staff numbers to 5,245.

The initial phase of the relaunch will focus on five centres currently producing daily print titles - Halifax, Kettering, Northampton, Peterborough and Scarborough.

Each of the group's 170 paid-for titles will be redesigned, but no other daily titles will be converted to a weekly format.

Johnston Press said total advertising revenues decreased by 9% in 2011.