Times media group head offices.photo by Simphiwe Mbokazi 453

The shake-up at Times Media Group (TMG) continues as Barney Mthombothi, who edits the Financial Mail (FM), has quit after eight years at the helm of the weekly magazine. This is the latest in a series of high-profile staff changes within TMG’s media assets.

The changes come at a critical time for TMG, so soon after finalising the debt-funded restructuring of the group formerly known as Avusa. The use of debt has increased pressure to boost the cash flow from TMG’s assets, many of which have struggled in recent years.

The global newspaper industry is in decline and evolving to cope with the onset of digital media and companies are being forced to make tough changes.

Following TMG’s restructuring and some recent share purchases, the major TMG shareholders are the Public Investment Corporation with 19.3 percent, UHC with 16 percent (soon to be unbundled), Coronation with 15 percent, Blackstar with 15 percent, Caxton with 10.8 percent and Allan Gray with 5 percent.

Ahead of the purchase of a 3 percent stake earlier this week, Blackstar’s holding in TMG was 12 percent.

The extent to which the personnel changes are related to proposed changes to operations in TMG’s media business is unclear. But Mthombothi did tell FM staff yesterday that his opinions on the future direction of the business differed from those of management.

Mthombothi apparently felt the implementation of a plan to create one large newsroom with the staff of Business Day, FM, iNetBridge and Summit TV significantly changed his role at the magazine.

He told Business Report: “The company has issued a statement, and I won’t add to it.”

TMG holds 50 percent of BDFM, which publishes Business Day and FM, with the remaining 50 percent held by UK-based Pearson, which owns the UK’s Financial Times.

Two weeks ago TMG announced that Phylicia Oppelt, who had been editing The Times, would replace Ray Hartley as the editor of the Sunday Times. And Stephen Haw, who edits the Sunday Times’ Express edition, will step in as editor of The Times from May 1, it was announced yesterday. A week ago it was announced that Marcia Klein was stepping down as the editor of Business Times.

This has been followed by speculation that one of the high-profile Sunday Times journalists is set to take over as Business Times editor.

In August last year, Pearl Sebolao, the deputy editor of Business Day, was appointed acting editor when Peter Bruce was appointed the managing director of BDFM to replace outgoing Mzi Malunga.

As indicated by Malunga’s departure, the high-profile personnel changes are not limited to editorial staff. Last month Colin Cary shocked many TMG shareholders when he quit as the chief executive after only six months in the job.

Cary had replaced Mike Robertson, who was appointed as the acting chief executive after Prakesh Desai’s dramatic and well-paid exit from the company in 2011.

Andrew Bonamour, the chief executive of Blackstar, which led the restructuring of TMG, has assumed the position of TMG chief executive.

News of Mthombothi’s resignation sparked speculation of a possible restructuring of the BDFM joint venture with unsubstantiated reports of a possible sale of FM.

There was also speculation that TMG was keen to acquire Pearson’s stake with a view to realising more synergies between newsrooms.

Peter Bruce, BDFM’s publisher, was rumoured to be in London in talks with Pearson about the sale of its stake.

Bruce confirmed he was in London, “but not to see Pearson about their BDFM stake”.

“Times Media/Avusa has never made any secret of their desire to have all of Business Day and the FM back,” he said.

Bonamour said yesterday: “At this stage we have no plans to buy them [Pearson] out, and I’m not sure they would sell.” He pointed out that that there was always speculation around Pearson and BDFM.

Meanwhile, it also appears that local printing of the Financial Times may stop in July.

TMG’s shares closed unchanged at R14 yesterday.