Former News of the World editor leads race to acquire UK newspapers titles

David Montgomery has emerged as the unexpected frontrunner in the race to buy The Scotsman, Yorkshire Post and other JPI Media titles

A collage of UK newspapers, including The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post, owned by JTI Media.

A collage of UK newspapers, including The Scotsman and the Yorkshire Post, owned by JTI Media.

 

Newspaper veteran David Montgomery has emerged as the unexpected frontrunner in the race to buy The Scotsman, Yorkshire Post and other JPI Media titles (formerly the Johnston Press group).

Mr Montgomery, formerly an editor of the defunct News of the World newspaper, announced plans in August to take a stake in British news with his takeover vehicle National World.

He was, however, not invited for talks with JPI until Saturday, after interest from previous frontrunners Newsquest and Reach chilled. Reach is a successor to Mirror Group that Mr Montgomery ran in the 1990s.

The sale of JPI’s roughly 200 titles is the latest in a series of asset swaps, as local and regional newspapers battle to offset dwindling advertising revenues.

On Friday, JPI announced it had sold its flagship national newspaper the i to the owner of the Daily Mail for nearly £50 million.

Reach and Newsquest, the two largest local news publishers in the UK, have at separate times both been in exclusive talks to acquire JPI’s regional titles, which were put up for sale after creditors rescued the company previously known as Johnston Press out of administration late last year.

Reach, which publishes the Daily Mirror and Manchester Evening News, on Friday confirmed reports that it was no longer in “active discussions” with JPI because it believed the price was too high.

Buyers drop out

Newsquest was in pole position to buy the JPI titles, despite its US-based owner Gannett being taken over by rival New Media Investments Group, creating the biggest provider of news in the US.

One person close to the negotiations said Newsquest had eventually dropped out of the race about two weeks ago, when the merger of its parent company had completed. “The ultimate bosses in the US thought it was not a good time to be doing things in the UK,” the person said, supporting a report of Newsquest’s withdrawal in The Sunday Telegraph.

Mr Montgomery and Newsquest both declined to comment; JPI Media could not be reached for comment.

The National Union of Journalists has previously called attempts to sell JPI’s local newspapers to Reach or Newsquest “alarming”, arguing that both news groups have been “relentless in reducing original content and the provision of local professional journalism”.

JPI has roots in Scotland, having been founded in Falkirk in 1767 by the Johnston family. The company, however, became overburdened by debt from acquisition sprees, including in Ireland, carried out before the internet wreaked havoc on newspaper advertising.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2019