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Is Johnston Press killing off the daily paper?

16 April 2012

Johnston Press is switching five of its daily newspapers into weeklies in a major overhaul by Ashley Highfield, the newspaper group's new chief executive. The overhaul will include all of its 170 paid-for titles.

The first phase focuses on five centres producing daily print titles: Halifax, Kettering, Northampton, Peterborough and Scarborough. From May, the Northampton Chronicle and Echo will be published on Wednesday, the Scarborough Evening News and the Peterborough Evening Telegraph on Thursday, and the Halifax Courier on Friday.

The company said the changes would bring in "seven days per week publishing online and a new iPad app with news updates around the clock and comprehensive online sport and events coverage". The extent of job losses is not clear, but it could be significant.

At Halifax, it means the closure of the district office at Brighouse, Hebden Bridge and Todmorden and a cut of nine editorial jobs – about a third of the current total. Six jobs could go at Scarborough.

Barry Fitzpatrick, NUJ deputy general secretary, said:

"This is a bold strategy of Johnston Press at a time when new solutions are needed. But Ashley Highfield must not lose sight of the fact that it will not succeed without quality journalism. If jobs are lost, this will happen. We need to know a lot more details.
"How will the weekly paper and seven-days-a-week daily digital output integrate and how will it affect the working practices of staff? Johnston Press is clearly making savings on print, but how will it recoup money lost from cover prices and advertising revenue? I hope that it isn't rushing into an ill-thought-out strategy because it is being put under pressure by the banks."

Michelle Stanistreet, NUJ general secretary, said:

"The NUJ is now looking to meet Ashley Highfield at the earliest possible opportunity. We are not against looking at innovative solutions to changes in the newspaper industry, but the lack of consultation with staff and the union is not the way to go about it. We will robustly fight any compulsory redundancies."

In a company statement, Ashley Highfield said:

"In my first few months at Johnston, I have been greatly encouraged by what I have seen in our local operations. Our publishing strategy going forward will ensure that we give our local audiences what they want.
"While providing our existing audiences with an even better product, both in print and online, we will extend our audience by increasing our online content and making it easier to access in the most relevant ways as technologies continue to evolve.
"Johnston's focus has always been on local and we will increasingly benefit from that core expertise with the rapid growth in both social media and in demand for access from mobile devices. We are committed to remaining a local company: that means local journalists and sales people working across the UK and Republic of Ireland, staying close to the communities and businesses they serve."

The news follows the company's decision to combine the editors of the Yorkshire Post and Yorkshire Evening Post, sack John McLellan, the Scotsman's editor-in-chief, and cut of a number of editor posts in the newspaper group's Lancashire titles.

Tags: , newspapers, regional newspapers, new media, johnston press, halifax, kettering, northampton, peterborough, scarborough, northampton chronicle and echo, scarborough evening news, peterborough evening telegraph, halifax courier, yorkshire post, yorkshire evening post, scotsman, lancashire