REGIONAL MEDIA: THE REGIONAL BARONS - Regional publishing is fast becoming a race of acquire or be acquired. Alasdair Reid profiles the industry's famous five

PAUL DAVIDSON - Newsquest



Prominent titles: Bolton Evening News, Bradford Argus and Telegraph,

Oxford Mail

Total number of titles: 199

Total weekly circulation: 10,261,270

Market share by circulation: 13.9 per cent



Rarely are "end-of-an-era" cliches as appropriate as they are this

summer at Newsquest, with Paul Davidson taking over from Jim Brown at

the helm.



Davidson obviously remains something of an unknown quantity at the very

top but there can be no doubt that he's paid his dues. He worked his way

up through what was then Reed Regional Newspapers - the organisation

that was transformed, via a management buyout, into Newsquest in 1995.

He became the deputy chief executive of RRN a matter of months before

the buyout.



That buyout was, of course, led by Brown, a tenacious Scot and one of

the last representatives of the old school in regional publishing.



Having remained independent for four years, Newsquest was acquired by

the US publisher Gannet for pounds 1.3 billion in 1999 and the influx of

capital has allowed it to hit the acquisition trail. In 2000 it acquired

News Communication and Media and it recently bought the south-west

London newspaper group owned by the broadcaster David Dimbleby. It's

also still pursuing Regional Independent Media as part of a consortium

alongside Johnston Press and Guardian Media Group.



ALEC DAVIDSON - Northcliffe Newspapers



Prominent titles: Bath Chronicle, Bristol Evening Post, Derby Evening

Telegraph, Nottingham Evening Post

Total number of titles: 94

Total weekly circulation: 9,698,033

Market share by circulation: 13.2 per cent



Among the bosses of the big five regional publishers, Alec Davidson, the

managing director of Northcliffe, has arguably the lowest profile in the

advertising industry - and that's despite being president (until July

2001) of the Newspaper Society. "I think that reflects the internal

focus of the NS," one agency source said. "We deal a lot with

Northcliffe but not with him, obviously."



It's also perhaps a reflection of the fact that within Daily Mail &

General Trust (in stark contrast to Trinity Mirror) regional publishing

is very much the junior partner in a group clearly focused on its

national properties. And Northcliffe has been relatively quiet on the

acquisition front, its last major activity coming in 1999 when it

converted a stake in Bristol United Press into full ownership. Bosses

tend to acquire a higher profile when they're throwing their corporate

weight about.



Davidson has been the managing director since 1995. He was with Thomson

Regional Newspapers before joining Northcliffe in 1984.



Northcliffe was an early enthusiast of local electronic publishing but

this enthusiasm has been tempered somewhat by the lessons of the

new-media crash last year. If it's seen as less of an opportunity it's

also identified as less of a threat - but Northcliffe remains a leading

player in the Fish4 classified ad dotcom.



CHRIS OAKLEY - Regional Independent Media



Prominent titles: The Sheffield Star, The Yorkshire Post

Total number of titles: 51

Total weekly circulation: 3,436,625

Market share by circulation: 7.3 per cent



Chris Oakley, Regional Independent Media's chief executive, is one of

the most colourful characters in an industry that's increasingly

producing variations on a shade of grey. He was a pop venue promoter,

the pop columnist for the Yorkshire Evening Post, and enjoyed a varied

career as a journalist, peaking with a stint as the editor of the

Liverpool Echo.



From there he moved effortlessly upstairs, ending up as the chief

executive at the Birmingham Post just in time to mastermind a management

buyout, becoming the chief executive of the resultant Midland

Independent Newspapers.



He stayed even when MIN was bought by the pre-Trinity Mirror Group back

in 1997, but he eventually left in 1998 to head RIM, a company created

to acquire the regional publishing interests of United News & Media.



In other words, Oakley has been around the block a couple of times. He's

also something of a visionary. Way back in 1995, before most of us had

even heard of the internet, Oakley was warning that regional publishers

shouldn't restrict their imaginations to merely newsprint and ink -

other distribution methods, especially electronic ones, would continue

to evolve, he insisted.



But now Oakley must face the future with a certain amount of

trepidation.



RIM has been "in play" for at least a year. The bid still on the table

comes from a consortium of three publishers - Johnston, Newsquest and

Guardian Media Group - but Oakley may decide to keep RIM from their

clutches by floating the company. But this uncertainty hasn't paralysed

RIM - back in May it bought three more Scottish titles.



TIM BOWDLER - Johnston Press



Prominent titles: Belper News, Bolsover Advertiser, Diss Express,

Todmorden News

Total number of titles: 191

Total weekly circulation: 5,715,879

Market share by circulation: 7.6 per cent



In the buy-or-be-bought scramble that is the regional newspaper market

these days, Johnston Press has been something of a revelation - and the

fact that it has emerged as one of the most aggressive predators is

mainly down to Tim Bowdler.



Bowdler, the chief executive of the Edinburgh-based publisher and the

first non-family member to head this previously traditional family firm,

has taken it to the position of fourth-largest publisher in the

market.



Much is often made of the fact that Bowdler comes from a non-media

background - his management expertise was honed within the building and

manufacturing industries - and how this enables him to be more

uncompromising and single-minded than many of his rivals. He certainly

seems to find it easier than most to tune out the industry's routine

distractions.



And Bowdler would have taken the company even further, faster, were it

not for the Competition Commission and its predecessor, the Monopolies

and Mergers Commission. In the five years since joining Johnston,

Bowdler has lost out three times to inquiries. But in that time he has

also successfully acquired Portsmouth and Sunderland Newspapers, in

1999, and Mortons Media earlier this year.



Bowdler remains a huge fan of consolidation. Critics say he should be -

Johnston has a piecemeal portfolio with few real gems. Tellingly, it

owns almost as many titles as Newsquest but commands only half the total

circulation.



STEPHEN PARKER - Trinity Mirror



Prominent titles: Liverpool Echo, The Birmingham Post, The Journal

(Newcastle)

Total number of titles: 246

Total weekly circulation: 18,957,262

Market share by circulation: 25.7 per cent



When Trinity finally acquired Mirror group in August 1999, there was

speculation that one of the newly merged group's top regional managers

would be appointed to a management role across the national titles. The

word was that it would be Stephen Parker, then Trinity's regional

director, north.



In the end the job went to his colleague in charge of southern regions,

Mark Haysom, but commentators pointed out that the episode spoke volumes

about the new outfit. There was not only strength and depth here but

those with a regional background were going to keep their prominence in

the company.



Parker was subsequently promoted to managing director of all the

regional titles. He has a thorough grounding in the business, having

worked his way steadily through the ranks with Trinity. In 1996 he was

appointed managing director of the group's Newcastle titles and since

then he has inexorably expanded his geographical reach, taking Scotland

under his wing, then the whole of the north prior to his promotion to

responsibility for all regionals.



There's every indication that, under Parker, Trinity Mirror means to

maintain its position as the market leader in the regional press. It's

still in expansionary mood, acquiring Southnews, a company with 84

weekly paid-for and free titles in the south London area, for pounds

284.6 million back in November. And it continues to invest in the basics

- for instance, in its funding of the largest-ever regional press

readership survey, involving 17,600 interviews within a universe of 8.3

million adults.



Topics