DC Thomson look to have moved to a war footing with media rivals after declaring plans to offer readers “a level and quality of content we believe not seen before in the UK regional news market.
Announcing the latest stage of its digital newsroom transformation programme – codenamed internally as Programme Apollo – it has issued adverts for 20 new vacancies to be filled.
Their moonshot comes after the parent company revealed the reversal of a £21m profit to a £180m loss amid the Coronavirus lockdown.
But it also comes weeks after JPIMedia was snapped up by media midas David Montgomery who has in turn brought in an experienced team including ex Reach chief Mark Hollinshead as Chief Commercial Officer and Vijay Vaghela who will oversee finance, IT and legal services among others.
With Reach having also installed additional resources into its live digital operations and the Scottish Sun actively recruiting for an Editor-in-Chief to lead its own transformation plans, the stage is being set for a lively 2021.
The new roles for DC Thomson include a Head of Live News, Head of Comment, Head of Sport, Head of Transport and Environment, and Head of Business.
A Data Content Specialist, Audio Producer, a Group Picture Editor, Live News reporters and four social media roles also feature in the plan which has been drawn up over the past 18 months.
In a statement published on the company website, DC Thomson said the strategy was in part why it was able to lure David Clegg – former political editor of the Daily Record – to take over as Editor of The Courier, and Frank O’Donnell – a former Director of Digital Content at JPIMedia and Editor of The Scotsman – who joined The Press and Journal in May.
Clegg, said: “We are searching for talented newsroom leaders who can complement the existing team and help us develop a deeper relationship with our readers.
“We have a strong connection with our communities through print, now we must develop that further online.”
O’Donnell, added: “This is a top-to-bottom revolution in how we approach content.
“This isn’t about writing the same content and putting it online, this is identifying innovative, compelling ideas that fulfil a need for new audiences. We have to be ambitious, take risks and be comfortable with not getting everything right.
“This is an exciting time to be part of a forward-thinking company which wants to invest in journalism.”
Head of Newsbrands Richard Neville, who is leading the project, said: “We are hoping the fortunes of society in general take an upturn in 2021, but we also believe changes in our news brands team will result in a new and dynamic way forward for our publishing business.
“We want to hear from anyone who wants to join a progressive, ambitious and innovative publisher.
“People who are interested in creating content that reflect their audiences and the values of their communities and are delivered through brands that have received investment in the people and resources needed to deliver genuinely high quality and meaningful content across all platforms.”
O’Donnell, of course, was previously charged with developing similar transformations for JPI before his departure. That in part resulted in the digital acceleration project rolled out last year under interim boss, Joy Yates.
However the new regime at JPIMedia have already vowed to ‘decentralise’ its operations as part of its own transformation. Reports suggest journalists have welcomed Montgomery’s vision for the company.
The latest evidence of changes at the company came with the departure of CEO David King.
According to the Daily Business, JPI is thought to have had revenues of £85 million and earnings of £6 million in 2020.
Montgomery’s National World operation bought the business for £10.2m. In 2005, The Scotsman portfolio alone was bought by Johnston Press for £160m.
It appears not only does he view it as a solid business proposal, but a personal investment too.
“On a personal note I have been associated with some JPIMedia titles since I was a student journalist and witnessed over decades how their great and honest reporting has contributed to democratic and societal development – a tradition that National World will continue to champion,” he said.
His last major project, as Chief Executive of Local World following a merger of Iliffe News and Media and Northcliffe in 2013, saw the company’s value increase from £100m to £220m when it was bought by the then Trinity Mirror in 2015.
The general consensus appears to be given the price and payment structure in acquiring JPIMedia, and the knowledge and experience of those he has brought in, the company’s fortunes could be in line for significant growth.
DC Thomson had been touted as a potential suitor for the business as late as November.
That came after Reach cooled its interest in a bid of its own. It instead opted to up the pressure by bolstering its Live teams in Edinburgh and Glasgow with some key appointments and the launch of new sites elsewhere.
One note of interest could be where this leaves Newsquest, another group that has been closely linked with a potential merger in the past. It shed its main office lease in Scotland last year, while it was reported in November that the company had endured a UK wide dip in profits from £108m to £13.4m.
Also on the horizon, of course, is the launch of GB News which has launched a major recruitment campaign of its own after securing £60m for the launch of a 24-hour news channel under former Press Holdings and The Scotsman Editor-in-Chief, Andrew Neil.
That comes a little more than 25 years after L!VE TV was launched by Mirror Group Newspapers including a station in Edinburgh, under David Montgomery.
With the global pandemic, Scottish elections, continued Brexit fall-out, speculation over both the UK Prime Minister and Scottish First Minister’s futures increasing, and the world stage of COP26 in Glasgow among the big events of the year ahead, the chase for audiences and revenue may never have been so keen.