MacDonald in bid to save Business a.m. as a weekly

MacDonald has been in negotiations to buy Business a. m. for two weeks

Business a.m., the Scottish business and political daily, closes this Friday with the loss of 130 jobs, but is expected to reappear on 16 January as a weekly in the hands of a newspaper white knight.

Angus MacDonald, the Scotsman who saved the Financial News in 1996, has been in negotiations for a fortnight to buy the title from the Swedish Bonnier group, which, after two years and £20m in investment, has had to pull the plug.

Business a.m managing director and editor-in-chief John Penman and finance director Barrie Agnew will both leave the paper, but MacDonald has said he wants to keep most of the senior management and around 35 to 40 of the employees.

"The editorial is great, the sales teams are great, but Scotland is too small to sustain a business daily," MacDonald told Press Gazette.

"I love reading Business a.m., but I don’t think it needs to cover the results of big national companies or write about Al-Qaida. It should focus on stories localised to Scotland.

"I’m a Jock and I understand specialised financial publications. It should be a perfect match."

MacDonald was doing due diligence this week. Upfront money is nominal, he conceded. He wants to show Bonnier his company has "people who are in this for the long term".

The phenomenal success story of Financial News under MacDonald’s guidance will have particular significance for the journalists losing jobs in the week before Christmas.

The economy had become too tough for Bonnier – itself facing a big dip in its newspaper division revenues – to go on funding expansion and its search for a partner had failed.

Penman was a driving force behind Business a.m. He and Agnew, with editor Richard Neville, deputy editor Paul Stokes, commercial director Barry Henderson, assistant managing director Dr Anthony Jackson and managing editor Nigel Donaldson, had put together a management buy-out team backed by Scottish businessmen and a bank, but their business plan to scrap subscriptions for 18 months and introduce sport to the paper would have meant huge expense in the first year.

Even though Bonnier was generously going to allow them the title, the premises and equipment, the deal fell £2m short of what was needed.

"It was very frustrating," said Penman. He would not change a single thing in the past two years, he said, adding: "The effort and the fantastic quality of the people here is something I will never be able to repeat."

The closure was announced to staff on Monday by Hasse Olsson, the chairman of Bonnier’s business press division. Penman gave them the option of closing the paper that night, but they all wanted to run it for its last week.

By Jean Morgan

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