Jewish News back to 'business as usual' as Chronicle merger plan thwarted by surprise bid

The Jewish News is back to “business as usual” despite bidding farewell to readers with last week’s paper, as plans to merge with the 180-year-old Jewish Chronicle were scuppered at the last minute.

Both weekly titles announced earlier this month that the coronavirus crisis had forced them into voluntary liquidation before they could finalise plans to join together under one charitable trust.

The Kessler Foundation, which owns the Chronicle, subsequently submitted a bid to the newspapers’ liquidators to buy their assets and merge them into one title led by News editor Richard Ferrer.

This followed months of negotiations and planning around the merger.

But an unexpected bidder emerged late last week in the form of a consortium of prominent business and media figures, whose main interest is in acquiring the Chronicle.

Their offer is understood to be “considerably larger” than the one made by the Kessler Foundation for both titles.

A source at the News confirmed to Press Gazette today that after owner Leo Noe found out the merger plan appeared to have been thwarted by the rival bid he took the 24-year-old title out of liquidation and agreed to fund it.

It is now operating as a going concern.

Last week’s edition of the News had looked to be its last with a front page message to readers from Ferrer saying goodbye and an article in which community leaders reflected on the title’s “true communal spirit”.

The ‘last’ edition of the Jewish News on 15 April 2020

But a statement to readers and advertisers yesterday said: “Jewish News will be published this Thursday as usual and until further notice. Our website continues to be updated throughout the day.

“Jewish News is funded and talk earlier this month of going into liquidation was to accommodate a merger which is not currently happening.”

Jewish Chronicle

It is understood that the Chronicle is currently expected to be put into liquidation tomorrow night.

The consortium was put together in just a few days after the Chronicle’s liquidation was announced on the eve of the Jewish holiday Passover and just ahead of the Easter bank holiday weekend.

It includes ten named individuals, all understood to be contributing funding, including Sir Robbie Gibb, the BBC’s former head of political output and an ex-director of communications at Number 10.

Others involved include former Panorama journalist John Ware, broadcaster Jonathan Sacerdoti, John Woodcook who was formerly political spokesman for Prime Minister Gordon Brown, and former Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross.

Press Gazette understands funding will also be provided by unnamed philanthropic donors from the Jewish community, with the intention of giving the Chronicle and its staff a more sustainable future after years of financial challenges.

The offer includes “substantial investment of millions of pounds over the next five years”, a commitment to editorial independence and impartiality, pay all the newspaper’s creditors – including hundreds of journalists – and retain a “significant level” of current staff.

Sacerdoti, currently UK and Europe correspondent at i24news, told Press Gazette: “We wish to rescue this important newspaper and to provide it with the future confidence and security it has lacked for some time.

“Our rescue package provides a real future for The Jewish Chronicle and its talented journalists, while protecting and improving on its editorial independence.”

Jewish Chronicle front page on 17 April 2020

Chronicle editor Stephen Pollard announced on Friday he was resigning from the newspaper after 15 years to support the consortium’s offer, which if successful may see him return to the role.

In a statement, he said: “As you can imagine this was an extraordinarily difficult and complex decision.

“But after searching my conscience I cannot in good faith lend my support to the Kessler Foundation’s bid to take the paper out of liquidation while there is such a compelling alternative on the table.”

Pollard said he knew many of the individuals involved in the bid and had “absolutely no reason to doubt the purity of their intentions or their commitment to upholding the highest standards of impartiality and editorial freedom”.

He added that he believed the consortium’s offer was “in in the best interests of the paper, our staff, our creditors, and ultimately of the Jewish community”.

“Small papers like ours have never been under greater strain and their preservation has never been more urgent.

“If there is a chance that the Jewish Chronicle can exit the financial uncertainty it is currently in under new ownership of the calibre that I understand compromises the consortium, that is willing to maintain the paper’s editorial independence and invest in the long term future of the paper, then that is an outcome that should be cheered on by all of us.”

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