“News just in” is a view through the lens of former senior BBC Executive, Atholl Duncan. The focus is the media and news – on TV, radio, online and newspapers. This blog also throws in observations from the Corporate Comms side from an author who once led the crisis PR of Scottish Water and is now Executive Director, UK and Global at ICAS – the professional body of accountants

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New Signing For New Season At Johnston Press

Is Wesley Sneidjer for Man Utd ? Is Berbatov leaving the Reds ? Who will Arsene Wenger conjure up with his hefty cheque book ? It is that time of the year when Premiership transfer fever is at a pitch. All the main contenders are looking for the right talent to turn them into a winning team.
Big signings in the media world seek to do exactly the same. The one that has raised most eyebrows is the ex BBC online guru, Ashley Highfield’s move to become Chief Executive of Johnston Press.
I suspect ink stained hacks may be furrowing their brows beneath their eye shades and kicking the copy boy. A man with no newspaper experience set to lead what was once of the nation’s proudest family newspaper empires ?
However, hacks would do well to suspend their cynicism for a while ? This could be an inspirational signing to save the company and take it back to glory?
Highfield was Director of the BBC’s Future Media and Technology Division from 2000 to 2008. His role there was very much to drag TV and radio dinosaurs into the brave, new world. I came across him several times during this period – though I could never claim to have worked closely with him on anything.
The BBC’s current, enviable position as a global leader in digital is down to the leadership in “Future Media” and journalism at the time that Highfield was in the top team at the Corporation. The BBC’s iPlayer a prime example of that glorious success.
Yet while the BBC’s digital advances were funded by billions of licence fee income, newspaper companies are in a different position.
This company was a league leader in regional press for more than a century. The proud tradition beginning when the Johnston family bought the Falkirk Herald in 1846.
Their financial model, like everyone else in newspapers, is under potentially fatal strain from a double whammy of plunging recession driven advertising revenues and massive disruption caused by the rise of internet news, mobile and social media.
Johnston Press seeks to discover the elixir of life. However, unlike the BBC it has to solve a problem as elusive as the cure for cancer – how to make enough money from digital journalism.
The woes of Johnston Press can be summed up in a share price that has gone from £5.50 to 5p in just more than six years.
The message of this appointment is clear – the model will change.
Recent financials show the company weathering a heavy storm.
The appointment of Highfield is the clearest signal yet that they now want to find a different sea to sail on.

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