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January 18, 2022updated 30 Sep 2022 10:56am

Cornish newspaper ‘on hold’ indefinitely as rising costs and Covid bite

By Andrew Kersley

Publication of the Sunday Independent newspaper in Cornwall has been put on hold indefinitely and its staff reassigned as it seeks a solution to rising costs and printing issues that made running the weekly edition unviable.

The editor of the paper, which covers news and sports from Bristol to Cornwall, told Press Gazette that a “toxic mixture of rising costs and the effects of the pandemic” forced them to stop the paper’s print run.

Among the issues are energy and print costs, and advertisers facing their own similar cost rises and uncertainties.

Press Gazette understands a major problem is printing times. As a sports-focused Sunday publication, it was reliant on a late-night Saturday printing slot. When the slot was moved to a significantly earlier time, it undercut their coverage.

The Sunday Independent is owned and operated by Independent Media, which also runs a series of local Voice titles across Cornwall.

Independent Media editor-in-chief Stuart Fraser said: “The Sunday Independent has been placed on hold since Christmas and its position is under constant review.

“At the moment, we are not printing because of a toxic mixture of rising costs and the effects of the pandemic which, in the first lockdown, deprived people of the sport for which buying the Independent was such a strong reason.

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“The Omicron uncertainty before and during the festive period had another knockback effect on sport at national and local level, and many of our clients have been cautious about their advertising budgets because of their own uncertainties around rising costs.

“It has also been difficult to find print slots late enough on a Saturday to enable us to carry the level of sport reporting which can satisfy our readership.

“We are constantly reviewing the situation in the hope of better days and a better climate for the Indy.”

Fraser added that the group planned to increase the number of Voice titles in the region to eight separate local editions and that all Sunday Independent staff had been reassigned to other titles without any job losses.

In 2020, newspaper publisher Reach downsized its print operations, shutting two sites in Birmingham and Luton with the expected loss of roughly 150 jobs.

The Sunday Independent had used Reach’s Luton site to print its weekly edition, and when this closed it was told printing would be moved to a facility in Watford and given an earlier time slot. A spokesperson for Reach declined to comment for this story.

In addition to the problems caused by the print time, Independent Media owner Peter Masters said the energy crisis and pandemic had massively increased the cost of producing the print edition – with costs rising by 80p per paper.

He told Press Gazette that he did not want to print the Sunday Independent if he wasn’t able to create a high-quality, affordable edition for its readers.

In November, Daily Mail owner DMGT warned of future staff cuts as substantial increases in the costs of distribution, energy and newsprint significantly undermined its revenues during the pandemic.

[Read More: DMGT results for 2021: Cuts warning as Covid bounceback falls flat]

The Sunday Independent was previously forced to close after 200 years in 2017, before being revived two weeks later by its current owners.

Previous analysis in August 2020 by Press Gazette found that 33 local papers had closed in the UK since the start of 2019. In the US, research revealed more than 100 local newsrooms have shut since the beginning of the pandemic.

Masters stressed that the newspaper would return to print in future but only if it finds a better printing slot and sees a fall in the cost of production, without which he said delivering a quality affordable weekly paper would be a struggle.

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