Johnston delays roll-out of 170 regional titles

  • Chief executive admits feedback on some titles was "not so good"
  • Roll-out of remaining portfolio delayed until January 2013
  • Company now plans to give out 1,700 laptops to reporters and iPads for editors

Johnston Press chief executive has told staff that the planned relaunch of it regional newspaper portfolio is being delayed – and admitted that some of its feedback was “not so good”.

Johnston announced it was relaunching 170 of its paid-for titles – excluding only The Scotsman, Scotland on Sunday, The Yorkshire Post and The News Letter – shortly after it emerged that five of its daily papers were switching to weeklies: The Scarborough Evening News, Halifax Courier, Northampton Chronicle and Echo, Peterborough Evening Telegraph and Northamptonshire Evening Telegraph.

The plan is for every title to slot into one of four new templates depending on local demographics.

Highfield told staff yesterday that the decision to delay the project, which was originally due for completion later this year, until early 2013 was “significant”.

Remaining titles in the South and East Midlands will relaunch throughout October but Highfield said the company will “take another breather to evaluate the success of this second phase before building up to the remainder of the relaunches starting in January”.

He added: “We’ve had plenty of feedback from the Phase One relaunches – a lot of it good and some of it not so good as would be expected with big change – so considerable work has already gone into learning lessons, making improvements to systems and procedures, and planning even better marketing campaigns.

“We know all our Phase One titles are making more money, both from advertising and from circulation revenue, but we want to try different types of marketing and sales promotions to see what works best to maintain ABC readership numbers. So another review period after Phase Two will be hugely beneficial.

“Many of you asked for more time to prepare for relaunch and you will now have it. A key finding from the first phase was that we need to do even more to improve our content – particularly where we are increasing cover prices - so each editor is being asked to provide a content improvement plan that will serve as a blueprint for their relaunch.

“This is a great opportunity for a bit of blue sky thinking and I’d also ask all of you to consider what message you’d like to relay in your relaunch marketing so that people understand your title has improved and offers even greater value for money.

“We also need to think about what types of content will help us reach new audiences – a big focus for relaunch - while keeping our heartland readers happy. We need more research to understand what content people would look for if they’re to become regular purchasers and we need to implement the best and most successful ideas across the business.”

Elsewhere, Highfield announced the company was planning to hand out 1,700 laptops to journalists.

“It makes every bit of sense to link the new technology with relaunch because we need to look at developing and improving our content alongside the new designs - and providing our journalists with the best and most suitable equipment will help us achieve that,” he said.

“Of course, it’s a big project with significant investment – by the time we have finished our relaunch programme around 1,700 journalists will each have received a new laptop, mobile phone and Google Mail, and all editors will have iPads as well.”

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