Buteman’s owners, Johnston Press, get interesting new CEO

Newspaper Group, Johnston Press, owners of The Buteman, have a committed and interesting new CEO.

Ashley Highfield headed up the BBC’s ‘vision multiplatform’ unit, covering new media and technology – and was the man who launched the game changing i-Player.

He is obviously both committed and certain of what he can do to revive the fortunes of the ailing group, long struggling under an increasing debt burden. Highfield has doubled his personal shareholding in the company.

With his background, this is a very interesting appointment. It has to signal a concerted effort to take the group firmly into the online service world.

Given the self-mutilating troglodytic stance of the press conglomerates on creating a productive territory on the Internet, we may just see Johnston take the lead.

There could be exciting times to come – and, through The Buteman, Argyll could have both a stake in it and a ringside seat.

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7 Responses to Buteman’s owners, Johnston Press, get interesting new CEO

    • For Robert Wakeham: When the use of the internet became increasingly possible with dial up systems back in the 1990s, it was immediately obvious what a powerful medium it was, what its capacities would quickly become and what a rich communications medium it promised to be.

      Newspapers did an ostrich act, refusing to confront what the advent of the Internet meant for their industry. They simply carried on as before, with weeklies keeping ‘news’ for up to seven days before publication and with advertising fees remaining high for a service whose impact could rarely be measured or assured.

      The arrival of broadband – with increasing bandwidth available and ‘always on’ access which was not charged per minute but by subscription – accelerated popular usage of the Internet and drove developments to create ever more user friendly applications and self-managed websites.

      The delivery of news changed at speed – as it had long been obvious it would. Its nature changed as well, with interactive services opening up the relatively free expression and exchange of views by readers – and the sharing of information across a spectrum as wide as the number of those interested, not limited by cost or geographical location.

      Online advertising was also measureable – by counting the number of those who clicked them open and the extent to which they cliicked on through the advertisers’ websites. This meant that advertisers suddenly became aware that they had no idea how many actually even saw their ads in the press – with most papers bulking ads in a block of pages towards the back of the paper. Who goes there? They were no longer willing to pay excessive fees for a service whose results could neither be assured nor measured and they turned – with and because of audiences, to the internet – in large number and very quickly.

      All of this was entirely foreseeable.

      The newspapers kept their heads down and their audiences migrated to the Internet where news was new. Their business market followed fast – this is where the audiences were going, advertising was cheaper, measurable and could be related to page content, thus targeting specific and appropriate audiences.

      The BBC takes a lot of stick but it was the only national news, information and entertainment platform that was willing to look directly at the writing on the wall and react to it. The BBC’s Vision Multiplatform team, a significant member of which was Richard Williams – not only delivered the i-Player but took the BBC into relationships with Flickr, social networks, blogs etc. Their argument was to follow the audiences, find and engage them where they were and link to BBC sites and services from there. This was a genuinely eyes-wide-open strategy, not only energetically embracing change but actually leading it.

      By this stage, the papers had lost massive percentages of their audiences. Ghey started websites but persisted in seeing them as secondary to their print services and fed them ‘news’ only after it had appeared in their papers.

      At this stage there were specialist online news services (and For Argyll was a very early entrant to this field), community news sites, individual blogs and widespread interactive opportunities.

      Newspapers lost even more of their audiences and most are struggling.

      Kindles and iPads have appeared, with ”flip’ capable touchscreens, not only capable of carrying innumerable books but of delivering news pages.

      Had newspapers had the energy of the BBC to engage with the new and to use it creatively as soon as possible, they would have been able to migrate their audiences to their online service – because they could have used their print platforms to advertise and draw towards it. Now they have scant audiences left to try to migrate – having wasted an unparallelled opportunity through stupidity, blindness and fearfulness.

      Had they done it boldly and quickly they could have built a paid-for online news service culture that users would have accepted. By refusing to recognise the reality of the immense change to news delivery that the Internet was always going to drive – never mind failing to engage productively with it – they left the, literally, free spirit of the Internet to embrace news, views, information services and interactive engagement in the full democracy that now defeats the printed news services.

      People will not pay for news online to any serious level. They don’t need to. Not only is the culture of the Internet based on free information but, whatever story anyone is looking for, some intelligent Googling will always find it from free sources.

      Rupert Murdoch, the most powerful of the media stables with News International, tried twice to make people pay for news online. He failed twice. He tried with the News of the World – thinking that people were more likely to pay for the salacious – on the web? Where those who want salacious can find it for nothing? He failed. He tried again at the other end of the spectrum, with The Times – thinking that people who would pay must want serious news. He failed again. The reason why he wanted outright ownership of BSkyB was not only for its huge earning potential but for its capacity to offer shelter to papers that would otherwise have died. His plan was to offer a universal subscription which would have bundled – effectively for nothing – his newspapers with the satellite television service.

      Younger generations no longer ‘do’ print. The blinkeredness and gutlessness of the press conglomerates has determined their inevitable end – yet they might have migrated to new territory, brought their audiences with them – while they still had them – and built new and younger ones.

      This has been the industrial equivalent of the Easter Islanders cutting down their last tree. No more material for dugouts. No means of travel.

      Some entrepreneurial and realistic Scottish journalists were prepared to change and set up an online only news service, the Caledonian Mercury – which has also shown itself willing to change quite quickly away for its early clunky ‘paper look’ to something much more flexible and muscular. This will be interesting to observe over time.

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  1. Going by the previous accuracy of this website when it comes to the prospects of newspaper companies Johnston Press will probably be sinking without trace very shortly.

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    • For Baffled: But the new months old CEO has just doubled his stockholding in the company. That must mean he’s got his feet under the table, he knows the score, he has a plan and he’s confident he can make it work.

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  2. How topical given the commencement of a paid-for Cowal news site earlier this month which some may consider could be a competitor to ForArgyll. Though I wish the venture well, personally I consider that a subscription local news site is doomed to failure, especially given their product is a new, unknown commodity and they do not have the track record yet to capture an audience. I really can’t see 2 or 3 local stories daily attracting the paying punter!

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    • For Pete: This would not be a competitor to For Argyll but we agree – and the evidence is in the public domain – that people will not pay for online news. There is simply no need to do so.

      Murdoch’s plan – had he been able to proceed with taking BSKYB into full ownership by News International, was to bundle newspapers, The Times probably, with BSKYB subscriptions. This would have allowed him to finance the papers through the BSYSB subscription revenue while claiming the resulting massive (default) subscriptions to The Times as a success for paid for online news services. Wrongly claiming these as true subscriptions to The Times would have disguised what has been his second failure (NOTW and The Times) to get people to pay for online news.

      The subscribers he would have had would almost exclusively have used Sky News and its online provision in any case. Sky is now the unchallenged service for news delivery in speed, coverage and authority.

      There are always grannies, uncles, close family and friends who will make modest donations to support an online service to whose providers they have this sort of connection – but nothing yet has disproved our certainty that, at this stage of the Internet’s established culture, people simply will not, in any significant number, take paid subscriptions to online news services.

      Serious and researched online news services may, though, again to a modest degree, be able to charge researchers for archived material.

      But the fact is that the traditional model of buying newspapers does not translate to online services.

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