Roger Parry: Johnston Press didn't want digital innovation

Roger Parry, the former chairman of Johnston Press, yesterday blamed the lack of digital innovation at the regional publishing group on apathy amongst senior employees.

Parry said it was a ‘legitimate criticism’to question why established regional publishers – many making over 30 per cent profit margins at their height – had not invested more in innovating on new media platforms.

‘Why didn’t Johnston Press and indeed other newspaper businesses invest far more of their money in developing video and audio capabilities and web capabilities?’he said.

‘The reason is they didn’t want to. There were people there that were in their 50s who did just not want to know.”

Parry, who was chairman of Johnston Press for nine years until his retirement in April, 2009, told delegates at the Journalism’s Next Top Model conference, in London yesterday, it had been ‘one long constant battle’to engage colleagues on the need to invest profits in new forms of journalism.

‘I had more conversations than I can tell you with people who said ‘I’ll be retired by the time this happens, I can’t be bothered. It’s all too difficult’,’Parry said.

‘It’s a very legitimate criticism of the old established media. It’s very, very hard to be radical while you are in an industry.”

Earlier this week, culture secretary Jeremy Hunt unveiled his blueprint to scrap the scheme that aimed to replace the current ITV regional news provision with a series of publicly-funded consortia (IFNCs) that had been set in motion by the previous Government.

Hunt’s proposalinstead to encourage the development of a series of commercially-funded local TV stations by removing restrictive local cross-media ownership rules was formed, in part, by a report written by Parry while the Conservatives were in opposition.

The proposals were criticised yesterday by Trinity Mirror boss Sly Bailey who said she ‘didn’t see ‘City TV’ as a viable proposition”.

Parry told delegates it was mistake to think of Hunt’s proposal as just ‘local television’as the intention was for it to help establish a new tier of local multimedia businesses.

The only difference between the ‘City TV’plan and the IFNC proposal, he said, was that the Government was looking to establish a scheme with no ongoing public subsidy.

When questioned about the failure of Guardian Media Group‘s Channel M in Manchester, Parry attributed its demise to its traditional television cost model, high staff numbers, and a ‘virtually non-existent’integration with the Manchester Evening News.

Each new station franchise, Parry said, was likely to be owned collectively by local media business – perhaps existing consortia members – that over time would reduce to three or four core owners.

The bulk of income for the new stations would come from the £3bn local classified advertising market, he said, which would be paired with low-cost digital programming.

This would be aided by the development of an ‘opt-out’network of shared topical programming to reduce costs further.

‘If you look at this as purely a local TV station they are a non-economic proposition,’Parry said.

‘You can’t come at this from saying ‘lets take the existing ITV model and make some incremental changes’ nor can you come at this saying ‘let’s take the current local newspaper model and make some incremental changes’.

‘You have to start with a completely blank sheet of paper and think about how we serve information and news to the community given the technology that is available today.

‘The answer is that you have to do it in completely different way.”

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