MEDIA HEADLINER: Newspaper Society president determined to create change - Can Bowdler alter the NS's image into a campaigning trade body?

The death of the Queen Mum, gawd bless her soul, was keenly felt across the nation, but few outside the Windsor family can have been as sorry to see her go as the Newspaper Society.

Its publicity machine seemed to rely heavily on shots of the nation's favourite gran visiting a local newspaper office in Scunthorpe or Swindon.

But the world turns and the Newspaper Society moves on apace. Its most recent release featured a young pretender called the Queen extolling the virtues of local reporters and snappers to support Local Newspaper Week.

The NS's own dynamic zeal in uncovering a new generation of talent has extended to its own seat of power. This week Tim Bowdler, the chief executive of Johnston Press, takes on the role of president.

Bowdler, 55, who succeeds Edwin Boorman, the chairman of KM Group, as the figurehead of the NS, has already come out fighting with a robust agenda. He, like all presidents of the NS, will occupy the position for a year. His supporters suggest that his determination will complete the transformation of the NS from gentleman's club to campaigning trade body.

The main issues that he has promised to tackle are lobbying on the Communications Bill in a bid to ensure that media ownership rules work in favour of regional press and taking the message of regional press' strengths to new and existing advertisers.

So why did he decide to get more involved with the NS, having sat on its council for several years?

"I think it is important for any newspaper publisher active in the market to get involved, Bowdler says. "There are exciting things going on, in which Johnston has played its part, and it is important to view this from a wider industry perspective."

Bowdler's own experiences and frustrations in running Johnston, the UK's fourth-largest regional newspaper group, will have influenced his strong views on the regulatory landscape. He is a believer in the liberalisation of ownership rules and this can only have been strengthened following Johnston's recent bid to acquire eight regional titles from Trinity Mirror in the East Midlands region. The bid was partially thwarted by a Competition Commission ruling that in four cases the deal would leave advertisers vulnerable to price increases. Johnston and Trinity are still discussing a partial acquisition, but the deal may have lost some of its allure.

"It is very important that lobbying goes on to ensure issues relating to regional press are understood by government, Bowdler says. "The role of Ofcom is a concern because it brings another regulatory body into the process. This could lead to more complex procedures, particularly for publishers seeking confidential guidance."

Bowdler came into the newspaper industry in 1993 from the building sector and says that the NS is "an exceptional organisation with impressive staff and support services.

Critics of the NS level the charge that it has been slow moving and reactive in taking the message of regional press to national advertisers and, especially, in building enthusiasm for good levels of advertising creative among regional publishers.

The signs are that this is changing. The recent Creative Juice awards, an initiative attempting to get creatives more interested in regional ads; its AdFast service, enabling easier transmission of artwork across regional titles; and a £250,000 research project to demonstrate the effectiveness of regional press advertising, are all welcome moves.

So what will be on Bowdler's agenda for advertisers, particularly given that two-thirds of spend in regional press is classified advertising?

"We are developing solutions to make us easier to deal with as an industry. As well as solutions such as AdFast, we have a strong role to emphasise the editorial strengths of the regional press and the important message that regional publishers offer well balanced coverage that benefits the community as a whole."

Steve Auckland, the deputy managing director of Metro, has worked with Bowdler on the NS council and says: "He's a good people person, very charming and has a good overview of the industry. He's pragmatic and has already done well for the industry in fighting for a relaxation in competition rules on ownership."

Bowdler has helped to take Johnston from being a small provincial publisher to one of the market leaders through shrewd acquisition, the purchase of RIM being the most recent. He admits that ten years ago it was a different story.

"I didn't know anything about newspapers. When the idea was put to me (of running Johnston) I was very dubious but it was a bold move by Johnston to hire someone with no knowledge of the sector, Bowdler admits.

The NS hopes that his decade of experience will give it a strong voice for the year ahead.

1980: Cape, divisional managing director
1994: Johnston Press, group managing director
1997: Johnston Press, group chief executive
2002: Newspaper Society, president


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