OPINION: Johnston Proves the Local Press Can Outstrip the Media Big Boys

Article excerpt

Which European media company is performing best for its shareholders in the middle of the worst advertising recession for decades? No prizes for guessing it isn't Vivendi Universal and certainly not Granada or Carlton.

The surprising answer is Edinburgh local and regional newspaper group Johnston Press - a company founded by a Falkirk printer in the 18th century and now one of the biggest local groups.

It had its annual results last week, with profits of pounds 97m and turnover of pounds 428m, although the figures were boosted by its acquisition of Regional Independent Media, publisher of the Yorkshire Post, in 2002.

But that's just the results. It seems that in terms of value to shareholders, an old-fashioned newspaper company not only topped the poll last year, but is the leader so far this year too.

It seems only yesterday that some of the UK's biggest media group's were clambering over themselves to get rid of their 'mature' regional newspapers.

There were new exciting electronic businesses to invest in, not to mention the internet.

Of course, Johnston Press has invested in the web, too, with more than 140 sites covering almost every market in which it publishes. They are all tied to local areas and titles and are under the editorial and commercial control of local management. Advertisers are encouraged to put ads online as well as in the paper. Guess what? The electronic activities make a profit.

Johnston is a family group that had the wisdom to bring in management not just from outside the family, but from outside the newspaper industry, in the form of chief executive Tim Bowdler. …