The figures, released today, show total digital revenues rose from £10.3 million to £11.6 million year-on-year, an increase of 13.3 per cent, while total revenues fell by 9.8 per cent to £144.3 million, with a pre-tax loss of £248.7 million in the first half of 2013.
"There are a number of factors to the digital revenue success in the first half," Henry Faure Walker, digital and business development director at Johnston Press, told Journalism.co.uk," and that growth has accelerated in the last two months. It's been driven by a number of revenue streams, importantly online display revenue both at local and agency level."
This increase would have been higher were it not for a "slow jobs market", said Faure Walker, as digital revenues grew by 23.7 per cent when digital recruitment advertising is excluded.
Online audiences for Johnston Press publications, which include 13 daily local newspapers and 191 weeklies around the UK, also grew as almost 50 per cent of the publisher's total monthly aggregate audience of 23.8 million is online, according to the report.
According to audited figures released today by the Audit Bureau of Circulation, average monthly web traffic increased by 13.6 per cent in the first half of the year when compared to the same period last year.
Mobile and site redesign
Faure Walker attributed the growth in online visitors, almost a third of whom visited local sites on mobile devices, to a new website design currently being rolled out to all sites, with a focus on driving engagement from users.
"We thought hard about how we present video and social media," he said, "and how to increase dwell time on the site. That's been an important driver, arguably the most significant factor, combined with the fact out journalists are continuing to increase the amount of digital content that they create and produce for our sites, whether that's fixed web or mobile."
Smartphones and training
All 1,400 local journalists have been equipped with video-enabled smartphones, said Faure Walker, and Johnston Press ran a training programme to support them in producing a greater volume of local video.
"That is driving more audience engagement and a key focus is in driving engagement as much as overall audience," Faure Walker said. "We are focussing hard on metrics such as returning visitors and dwell time. So a key focus would be to take the almost 12 million monthly audience and get them to come back to the site."
The interim report states that 14,400 videos were uploaded in the first half of 2013, and 4,800 in July alone, alongside other projects to boost digital engagement as part of a 'Journalism 2015' programme to accelerate the publisher's digital side.
"The objective with Journalism 2015 is to accelerate our thinking and strategy around what the optimum model around what producing local journalism and local content would be," said Faure Walker.
As well as video, innovations have included a social media projects in Sheffield and Falkirk newsrooms, a user-generated content pilot in Leeds and a data journalism collaboration between UCLAN and the Johnston Press's North West publishing unit.
"It's about aggressively pushing what we, as a team of local journalists, can achieve in those areas as we strive to improve and accelerate our content-producing and journalistic endeavours through the innovative use of digital media."