Yorkshire Post owner enjoys rising newspaper sales despite media ‘decline’

The Scotsman and Yorkshire Post owner National World said it is getting closer to fully automating its newspaper production, as it revealed sales jumped by nearly a fifth this year.

The regional newspaper group cheered the fact that it has grown revenues “in the face of a general sector decline”.

The company also revealed it was making progress on plans to automate some of its processes, including using artificial intelligence (AI) for the design and production of pages for print.

It also uses a system to automate “content resourcing”, whereby contributors can upload articles to go online or in newspapers, therefore bypassing reporters and going straight to editors to review.

It reported total group revenues of £39.5 million in the 21 weeks to May 25, an increase of 18% on the same period last year.

Within that, digital revenues jumped by 11%, circulation grew by 12%, and print advertising soared by more than a fifth.

National World said digital sales grew even though there is a general “audience malaise” across the media, with some publishers being forced to trim news reporting teams and reduce content in the face of weaker consumer demand.

On Wednesday, London’s Evening Standard newspaper told staff it plans to ditch its daily edition in favour of a new weekly publication.

It said it needs to “change with the times” and adapt to an increasingly digital world.

National World, which owns a series of regional publications also including the Express & Star and Lancashire Post, said it is moving closer to automating the publication of its weekly titles.

“Our transition towards full automation of content production processes has accelerated in the first half,” said chairman David Montgomery.

“There is greater focus on pivoting the workforce towards highly monetisable specialist content across all platforms, particularly higher yielding video, business information and events.

“Consequently, we are differentiating the company as a leading innovator with a continually expanding reach.”

Johnston Press finances
The Scotsman owner National World said it managed to grow its sales in the face of a ‘general sector decline’ (Jane Barlow/PA)

The group first announced last year that it was going to harness automation and artificial intelligence (AI) for the production of its newspapers and digital content.

Rival regional publisher Newsquest recently said it had hired several AI-assisted reporters across the UK, who work with AI systems to help write news articles.

National World said it is confident that the changes it is making, and ongoing cost savings, will continue to make it more profitable.

The newspaper group has been among the potential suitors jostling to buy the Telegraph, which was put up for sale by lenders last year.

It is the “best qualified buyer among the various candidates” for a deal, National World insisted.

The Telegraph is back up for sale after a deal with Abu Dhabi-backed fund RedBird IMI collapsed last month.

Shares in National World jumped by about 6% on Thursday morning following the upbeat financial update.