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NUJ calls for clarification over future of the Independent

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11 February 2016

The NUJ is seeking urgent talks following the announcement that Johnston Press is in “late stage discussions” to acquire the i, the cut-price newspaper owned by Evgeny Lebedev.

The union also needs answers on speculation that the deal will mean the closure of the Independent and Independent on Sunday newspapers, with the 30-year-old titles moving online, leading to significant lob losses.

The paper, which sells about 275,000 copies a day, is being sold for about £24m. According to the Financial Times, the deal would value the i at 4.6 times last year’s operating profit of £5.2m.

Steve Auckland, CEO of the Independent and Evening Standard, said: "I can confirm that we are in discussion with Johnston Press regarding the sale of i newspaper. At this stage no decision has been made and we realise the uncertainty that this news will cause our employees and customers. Johnston Press is bound by strict PLC guidelines so unfortunately we can make no further comment at this time."

In a letter to staff,  Amol Rajan, editor of the Independent, said he was unable to say more about the potential deal.

The deal appears to put the future of the loss-making Independent and Independent on Sunday in jeopardy; however, staff on these titles contribute to the i's content. Apparently, should the deal go ahead Johnston Press would create a website.

NUJ reps working on Johnston Press's regional titles were astonished that JP, which has announced job losses and title closures across the group, said it has £24m to pay for the deal. Many of the staff are suffering from increased workloads as vacancies have not been filled. Latest figures show that JP’s net debt stands at £184.6m.

The group, according to Hold the Front Page "declined to comment on claims by former Scotsman editor John McGurk that the flagship title is being marketed for sale with a £10m price-tag". Johnston Press bought The Scotsman from the Barclay brothers in 2005

Laura Davison, NUJ national organiser, said:

“The announcement and ensuing speculation is creating a huge amount of uncertainty. Johnston Press and the Lebedev’s are just treating staff as pawns in a game played behind closed doors.
"They should step up and give immediate guarantees on jobs, terms; explain what this deal means and what JP is actually buying. The closure of the Independent print titles would be a disaster not only for those working on the newspapers but the whole UK media landscape.
"The i's content comes from Independent journalists and is successful as part of the whole because of its experienced journalists who have stuck with the titles through thick and thin. How can you separate that out?

"JP staff are currently facing major job cuts and freezes. There will be anger about how the company squares their failure to invest locally with this announcement. Their record doesn’t bode well for the future of the i."

Lebedev also owns the Evening Standard and local TV station London Live.

Tags: , national newspapers, independent, independent on sunday, i newspaper, lebedev, johnston press, sale