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September 8, 2020updated 30 Sep 2022 9:34am

JPI Media to restart sale process as it cuts print staff

By Charlotte Tobitt

JPI Media has told staff it is reopening itself to bidders after coming through lockdown in a “strong place” on the same day it revealed plans to cut up to 30 jobs.

The publisher of the Yorkshire Post, Scotsman and dozens of other regional titles had a number of interested bidders last year when it sold its only national title, the i paper, to DMGT.

But no sale was completed and the process was put on hold when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK.

Chief executive David King told staff today the company’s board has decided it is the right time to restart exploring its options, with financial adviser GCA Altium appointed to lead the process.

King said: “I have always been of the view that business would benefit from being part of the industry’s consolidation, albeit it remains a good business in its own right (as recent months have shown).”

Like many publishers, JPI’s revenues are tracking below pre-Covid levels but King said advertisers and newspaper sales have both begun to return.

The publisher has also reduced costs since March, King said, “much of which will sustain into 2021”.

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“We had over £22m of cash in the bank at the end of August and we have successfully come through the lockdown in a strong place.”

In a separate staff memo, JPI editor-in-chief Jeremy Clifford said job cuts are proposed in the Scottish small brands, advanced content hubs, community sport and design hub teams.

About 24 jobs are being created in a newly-formed central digital content team, meaning a net loss of 20 to 30 roles overall.

Clifford said the publisher is “unlikely” to reinstate pages that have been cut since the Covid-19 pandemic began “because of reduced activity levels in the community and advertising volumes”.

“This gives us the opportunity to reassess the content we produce for all our titles,” he said.

The central design team has “significantly reduced” the number of pages it produces since the coronavirus crisis started, although Clifford said there had been “minimal impact” on quality. Some design elements will now be brought back.

Clifford said: “Over the past few months we have learned much about the types of content that engage our readers and we intend to continue to shift our focus to producing more content that appeals to our digital readership – particularly for our biggest brands.

“What we have learned about the value of our digital content has reinforced our belief in our digital strategy and transformation.”

A digital graphics and video production will be created as part of the new central team, which will also have a remit over some new subject areas for JPI’s sites such as lifestyle.

The publisher is separately creating a further nine new jobs to focus on engagement, subscriptions and search-driven content.

Clifford told staff: “I am sorry this is difficult news for people who have worked so hard for our company during what has already been a very challenging year.

“The economic circumstances and changes to the ways in which our readers access content mean we need to respond to those challenges to ensure the continuing viability of our business.”

These are the first editorial job cuts proposed at JPI since the pandemic began. Up to 100 sales staff were made redundant earlier this summer.

Some 350 employees at the publisher were put on furlough in April, and a small proportion of staff remain on the scheme.

Salary cuts put in place at the same time of up to 15% for those who continued working have mostly been lifted, with only senior members of staff still taking a reduction. An update is expected on this next month.

At the start of lockdown JPI suspended 12 local print titles amid a “substantial reduction” in advertising. Most of these newspapers have now begun printing again.

The publisher has also been continuing to experiment with its digital strategy, implementing a number of paywalls since lockdown began. Most recently the Yorkshire Post began asking for voluntary donations in a Guardian-style model.

According to King, JPI’s titles grew audiences by 41% year-on-year between January and June while digital subscribers were up 237% between December and June.

King also said 33 new digital editorial roles have been created in the past year and the publisher’s digital acceleration programme and restructure has restarted in Scotland.

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