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Alex Salmond joins bid to install new leadership at newspaper group

The former first minister of Scotland would become chairman of the group if plans led by investor Christen Ager-Hanssen are approved by shareholders
Paul Ward

ALEX Salmond has joined a bid to install new leadership at newspaper group Johnston Press, publisher of The Scotsman and the i.

The former first minister of Scotland would become chairman of the group if plans led by investor Christen Ager-Hanssen are approved by shareholders.

Mr Salmond, who lost his Westminster seat in June's general election, said he would not have editorial control but that each of the around 300 newspapers in the group should be "a champion of the community of interests they represent".

"Under our plan, The Yorkshire Post will be pro Yorkshire, The Scotsman pro Scotland, and The i trusted everywhere for the quality and accessibility of the information it provides," the former SNP leader said.

The Scotsman did not support independence in the run-up to the 2014 Scottish referendum when Mr Salmond was leading the push for a Yes vote.

Since losing his parliamentary seat, Mr Salmond has hosted a chat show at the Edinburgh Fringe and a weekly radio programme on LBC.

He said Johnston Press titles had been a "constant part" of his life, with his first job selling the Edinburgh Evening News and his first published letter printed in The Linlithgow Gazette.

"The Johnston Group has great titles and some great people. What it needs is a senior management team to match that commitment.

"Every local newspaper will be valued for the journalistic reach it can bring to the group and all of the 300 communities covered by the titles will be treated with respect.

"Christen Ager-Hanssen is a visionary and I am delighted to be working with him. He is a man with the necessary thought leadership to help this great company move forward confidently in the Information Age."

Mr Ager-Hanssen, who owns a Scandinavian version of the Metro newspaper and is a shareholder in Johnston Press through his Custos Group, is expected to call an emergency general meeting to put his plans forward.

He said: "Alex and I are agreed about the new direction we need to take to save Johnston Press, reinvigorate its staff and transform the company into a digital media powerhouse.

"We are committed to advocate a new direction for the company which we believe will protect and enhance its future and provide it with real leadership.

"Central to our vision are the interests of shareholders, staff, pensioners and the communities who trust and rely upon the Johnston titles to provide them with information and news."

Johnston Press said it was recording growth.

A spokeswoman said: "We're continuing to focus on producing great newspapers and delivering big digital audiences.

"In the most recent ABCs, The Scotsman recorded both a print circulation and digital audience rise, which together has helped it increase advertising revenues year on year.

"More broadly, the i newspaper is performing very well, with revenues up 17% in the quarter, and our digital revenues are up 16% in the quarter.

"We are making good progress on our strategic review."

Scottish Secretary David Mundell said: "I've always thought there were significant similarities between Alex Salmond and George Osborne and we'll maybe get to learn more about them.

"As he told me in a tweet he did have 19 sell-out shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival so I'm sure that the entertainment section of the newspaper would be greatly enhanced if he was editing it.

"I think if he was the editor of the paper his personality would be reflected throughout it. He obviously has a market."

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