Saturday, November 17, 2018

The Great Escape

Et voila ! In less than 24 hours, Johnston Press has been sold to its bondholders, and will in future be known as JPIMedia. In return for the assets, they've agreed cut what they're owed, to £85m, maturing in 2023, and say they're putting in £35m of new money. And, of course, the pension scheme is now somebody else's problem.

David King (former BBC worldwide finance operative) transfers straight from CEO JP to CEO JPI. A new name joins him on the JPI board - turn-round specialist John Ensall, who has apparently worked miracles for Findus Foods and Addis, currently non-exec at Irish mining group Kenmare. .

From the ditch to the hedge

If the current board of Johnston Press get their way, Britain's fourth largest regional newspaper group will soon be transferred to a new company, featuring most of the existing directors and the guiding hand of major bondholder GoldenTree Asset Management, of Park Avenue, New York, lead by Steve Tananbaum.

It's becoming a familiar process, and one a less-distracted Government should think about. This pre-pack route into administration allows failing directors to ditch pension scheme obligations, without apparent penalty.

I'm not sure Norwegian raider Christen Ager-Hanssen and his Custos Group could have done better. But they have a fine line in indignation: "This Board is purely self-interested, with a toxic mix of incompentence, arrogance and entitlement added. Their actions today, ensuring their own jobs are safe, but sacrificing the pensions of their loyal staff, many of whom will no doubt lose their jobs under the new ownership of a US hedge fund, is simply a disgrace and a vulgar display of the worst elements of capitalism."


I have a feeling this late night tweet from Andrew Neil is not a dead issue. He's sharp, but he's a smart-arse, and he needs a script editor. The tone is simply not appropriate for a regular BBC presenter; the line wouldn't have been allowed on Mock The Week or The Mash Report. Ms Unsworth may need to do more than make him delete it and tap his knuckles with a Social Media policy guide....

Friday, November 16, 2018

Sticking their necks out

In slower news, Tortoise closes its online-early-bird-more-complex-than-Easyjet-subscription offers on Kickstarter tonight. At time of writing they've raised pledges of £526,538, from 2,443 people. They'd like to get to 3,000.

They've also been piloting their member 'Think-Ins' - attendees get a 44 page briefing note on the topics under discussion. This week there were sessions zingily entitled "The Anatomy of Football: The Player's Life - Dream or Delusion ?" and "The Question of Gender: Who decides who we are ?".
At this stage we have no idea if celebrity supporters Steven Mangan and Alexander Armstrong (both Cambridge University contemporaries of James Harding) showed up.

A range of voices

Growth in job

How hang things with John Shield, the BBC Communications supremo ?   It's been an eventful year so far; he was moved up to Board level in January, and the package rose from £159k to £195k as he took extra responsibility for the entirely-different-to-PR 'Corporate Affairs' department.

He's spread his wings with PR conference appearances in Oslo and Zagreb; he's joined the Contemporary Arts Society as a Trustee; and now he's selecting a super-Executive PA. The list of responsibilities (highlights below) suggest there can't be much left for John to do...

  • As part of the Business Unit, to support, manage, coordinate and deliver significant pan-divisional projects at Steering Group level on topics such as:- diversity; training & development programme and objectives; staff engagement and events; change management
  • Collate and coordinate director's weekly newsletter to pan-BBC communications family
  • Manage full end-to-end project activity of the Communications Trainee Programme; from coordinating recruitment with Resourcing team to graduation
  • Support Business Unit to deliver financial savings targets, coordinating divisional financial activity including raising and tracking POs through process
Meanwhile, former BBC spinner Julian Payne, after a spell with former BBC money man John Smith at Burberry, has settled nicely into Clarence House, and is having a very successful 70th birthday run with The Man Who Would Be King. 

Leading ?

A small coup for LBC this morning. Mrs May's media guru, Robbie Gibb (ex-BBC Politics) decided that an hour dealing direct with voters, mediated by Nick Ferrari, on LBC, was the best way to present her case today. LBC, of course, is now national, and has taken a deliberately telegenic approach to its radio studio design. TV clips are easy to take, and terrifically branded.

The BBC needs to redesign its radio studios, across all networks, for the 21st century; get rid of the pine boxes, green baize, security cameras, exhibition banners, sort out the clutter and get some decent lighting in.  On Today, she would have probably faced Nick Robinson for 15 to 20 minutes, wearing bakelite headphones, shot on the diagonal, rather than at eyeline.  TV crews, including the BBC, would be chasing all day for better shots and their own clips.

At least she wouldn't have had her clothes analysed by the Today fashion guru John Humphrys, who's been sharing thoughts with the all-new centre-right Daily Mail.

"Anyone who does not believe women and men are equal is a moron. Equal but different. I have four words to support that view. The first two are “French tuck”. That, I’m told, is the latest fashion trend - wearing your shirt with one half tucked in your waistband, and the other half hanging free.

"Apparently Meghan Markle does it, and so does Cate Blanchett — and you don’t get a greater endorsement of a fashion trend than that. 

"When men do it, it’s because we are basically slobs and we don’t even notice. When women do it (OK — some women), it’s because they want to appear fashionable. Apparently Meghan Markle does it, and so does Cate Blanchett — and you don’t get a greater endorsement of a fashion trend than that.

"The other two words are “ripped jeans”. And with that, I rest my case."

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Pied piper

Radio Today reports that Chris Evans has snaffled most of his Radio 2 team to travel with him to Virgin.

Sports reporter and general-all-purpose-foil Vassos Alexander is going commercial; new travel reporter Rachel Horne moves across and gets to read bulletins as well. Ellie Davies, who's been away on maternity leave, joins the Virgin team as executive producer, with Meera Depala as producer, and guest booker John Dutton, provider of stellar Fridays, moves as well.

Man of letters

Another light-touch evening from the BBC's new Editorial Director Kamal Ahmed.

19.20 hours Downing St: PM Theresa May on steps of Number 10 announcing Cabinet backing for historic EU draft Brexit agreement

19.30 hours Kamal on stage at Duke Street Church, Richmond, as part of his continuing book tour.

Disguised employees

The NAO's latest report into the BBC is unusual, in that it comes to no conclusion and offers no patronising advice on improvement.

The report deals with the BBC's shifting way of paying presenters on radio and tv, and particularly the Corporation's previous insistence on hiring through Personal Service Companies. It's a useful narrative, and occasionally acknowledges the real pain caused by a collision of a cash-hungry HMRC and the bureaucratic Horlicks brewed by the BBC in response.

At least the BBC Board can take some comfort. If all-seeing all-knowing Sir Amyas Morse can't find a way to extricate all parties from this Orwellian-nightmare, then probably they're doing their best (now)...

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