Senior church leaders in the North East have voiced concern over the loss of an “exceptional editor” following the departure of Sunderland Echo’s Rob Lawson on Friday.
Lawson announced he was standing down as editor on the same day it emerged the paper’s owner, Johnston Press, was closing its print press in Sunderland and moving it to Sheffield with the loss of more than 81 jobs.
“Local newspapers are essential to local communities,” said the Right Reverend Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, in a report that appeared in the Echo. “Their health is measured by their local participation in the economy and in reporting.
“The loss of an exceptional editor and the moving of printing to Sheffield, are bad news for Sunderland and very much to be regretted.”
Stuart Bain, archdeacon of Sunderland, added: “My dealings with Rob have demonstrated his passion for the city and for the welfare of the people of Sunderland which need to be at the heart of any local newspaper, I realise that the voice of the newspaper is a team effort, but this will be a hard act to follow.”
Rev Canon Sheila Bamber, canon provost of Sunderland Minster, said the closure was “very bad news for Sunderland and Wearside”, coming in the same week Caterpillar in Peterlee announced it was axing 300 jobs.
Closure of the press hall will end almost 140 years of the Echo being printed in Sunderland.
The Sunderland Echo base will remain home to around 300 editorial, commercial and support staff.
Earlier this month Johnston also announced it was switching production and sub-editing of its North East titles from Sunderland to Sheffield, which is more than 120 miles away.
A company statement issued last week on Lawson’s departure said: “Rob Lawson, editorial director of Northeast Press Ltd and editor of the Sunderland Echo has decided to leave the company to pursue outside business opportunities.
“Rob has made an outstanding contribution to Northeast Press, and latterly the group in his role as chairman of the Editorial Review Group, and we wish him well for the future.
“A further announcement will be made in due course regarding the vacant role.”
Lawson became editor of the paper in 2002 and before that was editor of the Shields Gazette.