Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield has resigned after seven years in the role.
Highfield is said to be stepping down for family reasons and to fulfill career plans to become a non-executive director.
He will be replaced by chief financial officer David King at the publisher’s Annual General Meeting in June.
Under Highfield, Johnston Press acquired the i newspaper from the Independent in early 2016. In 2017, its first full-year of trading under the publisher, the i made £9.3m and launched weekend edition.
Johnston Press, which has just under 200 publications, including dailies the Yorkshire Post, The Scotsman, and the Belfast News Letter, reported a total revenue income of £201.2m in 2017, down 4.5 per cent year-on-year.
Highfield said: “I have been privileged to lead Johnston Press during a period of unprecedented turbulence in our industry.
“Since 2011 we have grown our overall audience, in particular our digital business, created an industry leading telesales operation and maintained margins.
“The acquisition of the i newspaper has been a particular highlight.
“I am proud of what the board and my colleagues have achieved and would like to thank them all for their support. I wish David every success in his new role.”
In a message to staff, seen by Press Gazette, he added: “I’d like particularly to mark my appreciation for your professionalism and dedication to our crucial role in the communities we serve, during what has been a time of unprecedented change in the publishing industry…
“The company has changed enormously in the last decade, now servicing a
digital audience of over 30m unique users a month for example,
mostly on mobile, and there is no doubt that there is more significant
change to come, which I know everyone at JP will address with
fortitude, passion, and good humour. I will miss you all.”
Highfield was paid £808,000 in 2017, including an annual bonus of £249,000 and pension contributions of £115,000, according to Johnston Press’ annual report.
Last year, under Highfield’s leadership, Johnston Press reshaped its Scotland and Northern Ireland operations, putting more than 30 employees at risk of redundancy – pointing the finger at Facebook and Google.
Highfield also backed Press Gazette’s Duopoly campaign calling on the two web giants to pay more back to news publishers, saying they were “not operating on a level playing field” with the web giants.
He told us last year that action was needed “to encourage [Facebook and Google] to see that they are destroying our industry”.
Johnston Press chairman Camilla Rhodes said: “On behalf of the board, I would like to thank Ashley for his significant contribution since becoming chief executive in 2011.
“We are sorry that he felt that his personal circumstances required a change at this time.
“Ashley oversaw the successful acquisition of the i newspaper, has driven growth in our digital footprint, while making substantial progress in reorganising and restructuring our business.
“We wish him every success in the next phase of his career.”
Rhodes said King would “prove to be a strong leader”.
Picture: Johnston Press / Daniel Jones