Johnston Press hails improving trends despite bottom line loss.

Ashley Highfield, chief executive officer of Johnston Press
Ashley Highfield, chief executive officer of Johnston Press

The newspaper group which owns the Blackpool Gazette and Lancashire Evening Post has said revenue trends were improving despite a challenging environment following Brexit.

The group said it had grown overall audiences for the financial year ending December 2016 - up six per cent year on year to 37.8m.

It added that it had seen an improving performance in digital, with a record 114 million page views in January, up 14 per cent year on year and the number of average monthly unique users rose 15.4 per cent from 19.5 million to 22.5 million after the re-launch of 173 websites in its 200 strong newspaper stable.

And it added that it had seen an encouraging start to 2017 with digital advertising revenue grow 10 per cent in the first quarter of the year.

But the company, which bought the i newspaper in April last year for £24m, saw an overall fall in revenue of six per cent in the year to £221.5m saying that the uncertainty surrounding the referendum vote in June had hit advertising.

It also had to write down the value of its titles resulting in a statutory loss before tax of £300m as compared to a profit of £2.2m in 2015 and it had made cost savings of £26m over the year. But is said profit margins continued to exceed 22 per cent, "amongst the best in the industry."

Chief executive officer Ashley Highfield said: “Despite an industry wide backdrop of significant downward pressure on revenues, the actions we have taken to pilot the business through this rapidly-changing market and create the conditions from which to create growth are starting to bear fruit.

"Circulation figures of key titles are improving, the i has bucked the trend of declining national newspaper sales and our progressive editorial and sales models are starting to transform our regional businesses. While we can expect to see continued pressure on traditional print revenue streams, we have seen digital return to growth in Q1 2017, with better margin products.

"Amid ever growing concerns from advertisers, both big and small, about the placement of their brand alongside unacceptable content, and increasing uncertainty around fake news, we believe our strategic focus on providing readers and advertisers alike with news platforms that serve as a trusted source of truth and insight, put together by teams of professional reporters who know their communities, is becoming an ever more important USP."