The NUJ handed out this open letter to Johnston Press shareholders at the company's AGM in Edinburgh today.
You’ll know only too well that management of your investment has produced little to celebrate in recent times. The current share price stands at just 8p. John Fry, who is finally leaving next March, has presided over a slump in share price from last year’s low of 17p and just over 30p at the 2010 shareholder’s meeting.
The performance of Johnston Press under John Fry’s stewardship has been unimpressive to say the least. Despite the downturn in the company’s fortunes, Mr Fry enjoyed a 4.3 per cent rise in pay to £1.01million in 2010, on top of this he received an additional 32.5 per cent of his base salary as pension contributions. That’s a £1.18million pay package in total. In return he has failed to develop a clear recovery and growth strategy for the company – something of grave concern to employees, shareholders and the many loyal journalists the company surreally claims not to employ.
The Johnston Press annual report boasts about ‘local content,’ ‘teams of local experts’ and proclaims that ‘Content is King’. Yet behind the corporate jargon, the company has reduced staff in its editorial teams dramatically in the last 12 months, with so-called ‘back-office functions’ - which include newspaper content creators - being moved sometimes miles away from the communities they serve.
The much-hailed new content management system is ‘operational’ across the business. This is purely down to the hard work of journalists. The company’s failure to invest in new hardware made the shaky implementation of the system exceedingly difficult. Similar systems have been introduced successfully at other newspaper groups who recognised this was a key investment that couldn’t be brought in on the cheap.
Over 230 editorial staff have been made redundant; significantly, 85 per cent volunteered to leave, a testament to the poor morale amongst staff. Those made compulsory redundant were often treated badly - in some cases individuals were given only a few hours to make a choice between a huge pay cut and imposed relocation or being forced to leave. All of this has taken place at a company that claims to belong to ‘Investors in People’.
The Chairman’s Statement says of Johnston Press – “Our core competences are providing strong local news and information coverage and attracting advertising and associated revenue. Our content and brands are established and well respected in their local communities. Our vision is to utilise that local news and information to create and sustain strong local brands which operate both in print and digital media. To support that vision, our strategy is to innovate locally to maintain print circulation and maximise advertising revenue; develop profitable partnerships which allow us to continue to grow our digital revenues; and develop associated revenue streams which capitalise on our strong local brands”. For anyone familiar with the group’s recent history, those are hollow words indeed.
The future of Johnston Press deserves the diligent attention of shareholders. We hope you will join with us in raising these important issues at today’s meeting and encourage the management to work with us to secure a better future for the company – for shareholders and staff alike.
National Union of Journalists