Debt-laden Johnston Press, the publisher of more than 30 titles in Ireland, has announced an “enhanced” group-wide voluntary redundancy scheme, having already laid off almost a quarter of its workforce between 2011 and 2012.
The National Union of Journalists says it is "deeply concerned" by the Edinburgh-headquartered company's move, with NUJ deputy general secretary Barry Fitzpatrick highlighting "serious issues over workload and the pace at which digital change is being imposed".
Although the union blames "draconian" loan repayment terms that are "strangling the company", it is also critical of the platform-transitioning strategy being pursued by Johnston Press chief executive Ashley Highfield. In an NUJ statement, Fitzpatrick describes the migration of revenue to digital as "disappointing" and "driven by a mistaken belief that it will come right in the end".
Accounts for Naas-based Johnston Press Ireland, the Republic of Ireland operation that publishes the Kilkenny People, the Limerick Leader, the Longford Leader and the Leinster Leader, among others, show that pretax profit fell 44 per cent from €1.7 million to €941,000 last year.
The documents, filed recently at the Companies Office, also detail one-off redundancy costs of €757,000 (up from €125,000 in 2011) and a provision of €127,000 for empty properties.
The directors note that 2012 was “another difficult year” for the Republic’s economy. But while its turnover plunged 11.5 per cent to €17.2 million (somewhat miserably coming on top of a 16 per cent decline in 2011), digital revenue rose 48 per cent to €457,000. That is still just 2.6 per cent of total turnover, however.
Group-wide, digital revenue accounts for an 8 per cent share of the total and continues to climb – whether this counts as evidence that Highfield’s plan is on track to coming “right in the end” is debatable.
Next week is Local Newspaper Week in Ireland, with a symposium due to take place next Wednesday on the theme of Local Newspapers: Embracing Change. What is certain is that some changes in the sector will be painful ones.