Regional publisher Johnston Press has reported a pre-tax loss of almost £250m having decided to take a charge of circa £252m against the book value of its 200 plus titles and printing centres.

The company reported a profit of of £13.6m for the first half of the year.

Ashley Highfield

Ashley Highfield

However, chief executive Ashley Highfield said that stripping out non trading items, the company was reporting on its first like-for-like increase in profits in seven years with operating profit up over 4% to £28.6m in the half year.

Revenues continued to slip with a decrease of just under 15% to £149.9m with ad revenue down  13.6% to  £93m. Circulation revenue fell 4.9%  to £44.9m but digital revenue rose 13.3% to £11.6m.

The company stressed however that the rate of decline in advertising revenue had markedly slowed  to a current rate of  decline of circa 6%. ear; an improvement in February and March saw that narrow to 12.6%. In June and July, this had improved considerably to a rate of decline of 6.3%.

Highfield said: “The summer periods of June and July were the first periods where external factors such as the weather, and internal factors such as converting some of our titles from dailies to weeklies, did not impact our period-on-period comparisons.

“My belief is that there is strong demand for our print advertising product and we remain as relevant to our national and local advertisers as we have always been, especially now we have refreshed and redesigned our print titles.”

Most observers believe that Highfield’s cost-cutting has reached its likely natural conclusion  and the next step is  to see how revenues can be boosted digitally with traditional circulation and print advertising in long-term decline.

Johnston titles in Prolific North’s circulation area include the Halifax Courier, Blackpool Gazette, the Yorkshire Post and the Sheffield Star.