Johnston Press hires former BBC digital boss Highfield as chief executive

Very interesting move from regional newspaper publisher Johnston Press it has hired the BBC’s former head of digital, Ashley Highfield, as its  chief executive.

Highfield is someone who has digital running all the way through his DNA and his arrival could mean a significant shake-up for the regional newspaper firm, which publishes the Scotsman, the Yorkshire Post as well as weeklies such as the Falkirk Herald.

If you needed any sign that as The Guardian put it recent that “digital is first” then there you have it. The appointment is a realisation from Johnston Press that it needs to up its digital game to survive and to achieve more growth.  Digital has to be a bigger part of its future, which needs to be shaped as traditional advertising markets shrink.

As Alasdair Reid wrote in Campaign recently “some commentators in the US (especially those who argue that the future is “hyper-local”) berate traditional regional media companies for not grabbing the huge opportunity that, they argue, has been staring them in the face. They argue that the future is about evolving beyond the traditional notion of classified advertising and plugging into new notions of local community markets and trading initiatives”.

I wonder if Highfield will be looking to Trinity Mirror and what it is doing with its regional titles. In March it announced it was considering charging for regional digital content.

In  April Johnston Press reported an 11.6% fall in first quarter ad revenues and it has closed down several newspaper offices and made a number of job cuts.

Highfield is replacing John Fry, who announced in March that he would step down. He joins from Microsoft which he where he is currently UK managing director at Microsoft consumer and online.

Highfield took that role up after he departed from his post of CEO Kangaroo, the BBC, ITV and Channel 4 video on-demand joint venture, which he took up after leaving the BBC where he was director of new media and technology. mAt the BBC he had been responsible for the launch of the BBC’s iPlayer and was editor in chief of BBC Online.

Highfield is not he only ex-BBC executive to join Johnston Press in recent months. Earlier this year the BBC’s head of social media, Alex Gubbay, joined as head of digital content at the regional publisher.

Ian Russell, Chairman of Johnston Press said “His combined online and media sector pedigree will be a major strength in enabling us to grow our business again.  On behalf of the board I would also like to thank John for his major contribution to the Company and wish him well for the future.”