Alex Salmond has offered his support to ailing multimedia news outlet Johnston Press. The former First Minister has been recruited by Christen Ager-Hanssen, who’s Custos Group is the leading shareholder in Johnston Press, as part of Ager-Hanssen’s bid to save the company through radical structural changes.
Mr Salmond will be appointed to the company’s revamped management board, alongside newspaper executive Steve Auckland, who in the past has managed publications including the Metro and The Independent. Salmond and Auckland will be tasked with executing Ager-Hanssen’s ideas for the future of the company, including revitalising it as a digital media outlet.
Mr Ager-Hanssen said: “Alex and I are agreed about the new direction we need to take to save Johnston Press, reinvigorate its staff and transform the company into a digital media powerhouse. We are committed to a new direction for the company which we believe will protect and enhance its future and provide it with real leadership. We’ll be working in the interests of shareholders, staff, pensioners and the communities who trust and rely upon the Johnston titles to provide them with information and news.”
In recent years, the Johnston Press has come under fire for its lacklustre performance. Despite owning numerous local and national papers, the company has of late been unable to achieve successful turnovers, leading to accusations that the company was being run in the interests of its managers. Adjusted revenue for 2016 shows a loss of 6% for the calendar year, meaning net profit of only £42.1 million (down from £49.3 million in 2015).
A fresh outlook?
According to Johnston Press, Ager-Hanssen also envisions publications which champion their local communities and, “work on behalf of their readers”. Should the majority shareholders agree to the takeover, one of the first actions of the new board will restore the Group’s Head Office back to Scotland. Currently, much of the high-level decision-making in the company takes place in the Group’s London headquarters. Ager-Hanssen has also pledged that one-third of the company’s board meetings will take place in Yorkshire, where the Yorkshire Post is based.
Mr Ager-Hanssen added: “It’s that desire to connect to communities that has convinced the Rt Hon Alex Salmond, one of Scotland’s most passionate champions, to join us. He understands how valuable these titles are to the fabric of communities and I am delighted to have him with me in this great enterprise. I think many of my fellow shareholders would see a proposed new leadership team of Alex and Steve Auckland as fundamentally attractive in restoring the fortunes of the company. We intend to take Johnston Press from this slough of despond to become the most respected newspaper group in these islands.”
Alex Salmond added: “The Johnston Group has great titles and some great people. What it needs is a senior management team to match that commitment. Under our plan The Yorkshire Post will be pro Yorkshire, The Scotsman pro Scotland, and The i, trusted everywhere for the quality and accessibility of the information it provides. Every local title will be valued for the journalistic reach it can bring to the group and all of the 300 communities covered by the titles will be treated with respect.”