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August 6, 2020updated 07 Nov 2023 7:44am

Closures and redundancies at regional papers continue amid Covid-19 cutbacks

By Charlotte Tobitt

Tindle is closing a popular Welsh newspaper series and a Scottish publisher is cutting jobs as the hit to advertising revenues from Covid-19 continues to impact regional titles.

Tindle’s 37-year-old Glamorgan Gem series is closing, with approximately five editorial jobs and three sales roles reported to be at risk.

Production of the weekly newspaper’s six editions, covering Barry, Bridgend, Cowbridge, Llantwit Major, Penarth and Porthcawl, was temporarily suspended in March because of the pandemic. All staff were furloughed under the Government’s job retention scheme.

Welsh radio station Bro Radio reported a staff member saying it had been made clear to them the newspapers were “not viable anymore”.

Alun Cairns, MP for the Vale of Glamorgan, said he has written to Tindle’s chief executive and managing director asking them to reconsider and is urging readers and advertisers to make their objections known.

“The Gem is a highly valued community resource in the Vale and one that we cannot afford to lose,” he said.

Welsh parliamentarian and former leader of the Welsh Conservative Party Andrew Davies said the newspaper “provided a valuable and important source of news and information for many communities across the Vale of Glamorgan”.

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Welsh Labour politician Jane Hutt said: “I feel for the journalists, the hardworking volunteers, and those who deliver the newspapers to all households in the Vale of Glamorgan.”

Reach commitment to print in Wales

The newspaper closures come as 90 of 140 journalist jobs have been put at risk of redundancy across Reach’s titles in Wales.

About 20 of those are expected to go at the end of the process, Media Wales editor-in-chief Paul Rowland told the Welsh Senedd’s Culture Committee on Wednesday.

The jobs will be among 550 planned to be cut across Reach’s national and regional titles in response to the Covid-19 advertising and circulation slump.

Rowland told the committee, however, that there are no plans to close any Reach newspapers in Wales.

“The last thing we want to do is close titles, and the more we can protect the profitability of any titles – the weeklies or any others – the longer we can keep them going,” he said.

Reach chief operating officer Alan Edmunds added: “We have a very successful model of using our scale to keep our daily titles daily, and to keep our weekly titles thriving, and that’s been tough. There are a lot of challenges, as you know, in the market as the audience moves to read online.

“But we’re committed to those titles, and we do everything we can to give them the best possible future, and we work very hard at coming up with the best operating models to allow us to do that.”

Asked about staff’s vote of no confidence in Reach’s handling of the cuts, Edmund said: “At times like this, all you can do is keep communication open, talk very closely to all your staff and make sure that everything you do is in collaboration as far as it can be.

“But when you’re going through consultation with a lot of people who are affected by these difficult times, then these are obviously very, very hard times for our staff, for many of them – those who are at risk – and we understand that and we work very hard to treat them very carefully, sensitively and fairly through this process.”

Reach has closed four free titles it suspended in April as a result of the pandemic, saying it would be “uneconomic” to bring them back. They are: The Lichfield Mercury, The Royal Sutton Coldfield Observer, Blackmore Vale Magazine and the Midweek Visiter (Southport).

But publication of all five editions of the suspended Manchester Weekly News will resume from 9 September, covering Trafford, Tameside, Wilmslow, Salford and Stockport. Reach also continues to publish the free West London Gazette series and Hounslow Chronicle.

Scotland media job losses

Job losses are also being made in Scotland at Highland News and Media, which owns 18 weekly newspapers including the Inverness Courier, John O’Groat Journal, and Northern Scot.

Press Gazette understands it is restructuring its editorial departments and making a small number of journalists redundant because of a drop in advertising revenues that is not expected to sufficiently pick up within the next few months.

Steve Barron, publisher at HNM, told Press Gazette: “In common with the rest of the industry, Highland News and Media have encountered extremely challenging market conditions as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“A huge amount has already been done to significantly reduce the company’s cost base, but the loss of entertainment and tourism advertising revenue in particular, has meant that very regrettably a small number of redundancies have had to be proposed in order to create a sustainable business model for the future.

“Management believe that, coupled with the considerable work that has been carried out to reduce non-people-related costs, this will allow the business to remain viable and have a sustainable future.”

Independent weekly the Examiner, based in Armagh, Northern Ireland, told readers last week it will not resume printing having paused during lockdown.

“We thank our loyal staff for their dedicated and committed service to The Examiner and offer them our heartfelt best wishes for the future,” it said.

The picture at local newspapers, which also includes dozens of journalist jobs set to go at Newsquest, comes as the BBC plans to cut 600 jobs across the English regions in online and TV news and local radio.

Harrow West MP Gareth Thomas last week wrote to BBC England director Helen Thomas raising fears of how the move will affect services in London.

He wrote: “The cutting of at least four BBC Radio London posts and possibly as many as ten BBC London TV and online posts many fear only reduces the quality of the service irrevocably and perhaps tarnishes the BBC’s hard-earnt reputation.”

Online news site’s ‘quick’ growth

Despite the redundancies going on elsewhere, local news brand Nub News launched three new websites this week in Hitchin, in Hertfordshire, Kenilworth, in Warwickshire, and Maldon, in Essex, with an editor hired for each site.

Nub News now covers 45 towns with its local news offering after launching in January last year.

Chief executive Karl Hancock said there has been a “significant increase” in the number of journalists applying to work with the publisher, and that it is “on track” for its aim to become the largest online local news brand in the UK.

Culture Minister John Whittingdale, who is MP for Maldon where one of the new sites has launched, backed the expansion.

He said: “Nub News, which employs professional journalists and where people can know that facts and stories are properly checked, is fulfilling an extremely important function.

“Local journalism has a crucial role in informing people about- and scrutinising- the work of councils, CGGs, the police and other local bodies- and, where things go wrong, asking questions.”

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