Plans to cut 17 journalists from the Darlington-based Northern Echo and associated weekly titles have been condemned as “vandalism” by the National Union of Journalists.
The cuts come as Echo parent company Newsquest announced a group-wide pay freeze.
In July the Echo cut five editorial jobs when it went from five regional editions to two.
Management at the Northern Echo revealed today that five district offices are to be closed – those in Stockton, Redcar, Barnard Castle, Richmond and Thirsk.
In a statement to staff, Northern Echo editor Peter Barron and Darlington and Stockton Times editor Malcolm Warne said the cuts were needed due to the “rapidly deteriorating economic outlook, and the severe impact on advertising revenues across all our titles”.
They said that the cuts, which represent the axing of one in six journalists, needed to be in place by 1 January.
The editors said: “We very much regret to have to make this announcement, particularly now, but the timing has been dictated by the accelerating rate of the economic decline.
“We appreciate how hard staff are working in the most challenging times for the local newspaper industry, and how difficult it is going to be to implement these changes. Uppermost in our minds in the coming weeks will be a desire to deal sensitively with individuals affected while also doing our utmost to protect the standards of our newspapers.”
In the first six months of this year, circulation of the Northern Echo fell 1.5 per cent year on year to 50,427.
NUJ northern regional organiser Chris Morley said: “This is nothing less than vandalism on a great institution of the North – the hacking away of much of what makes the Northern Echo and associated weekly papers an important part of their communities.
“And it is a double whammy for staff who were given a four-line memo today also informing them that if they kept their job into next year they would have their pay frozen until at least April – and probably to 2010.
“This is shameful mismanagement and misplaced priorities which seek to sacrifice journalists to put dollars in the pockets of American shareholders of parent company Gannett.
“Our members have given notice already that they will oppose compulsory redundancies and meet on Monday to consider their response to this latest outrage.”
Darlington NUJ father of chapel Adam Murray said: “When circulation figures are plunging around the country, the Northern Echo has bucked the trend to some extent and this is the reward for its journalists’ efforts.
“It is all about the short term and nothing about the long-term future of the paper. Closing the district offices is tantamount to waving goodbye to the communities that have been served by the paper for a century.”