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February 22, 2018updated 23 Feb 2018 1:32pm

‘End of an era’ as News & Star publisher CN Group sold to Newsquest, breaking four generations of independent family ownership

By Freddy Mayhew

One of the last big family-owned newspaper publishers in the UK, CN Group, is being sold to US-owned regional publisher Newsquest.

The group has been helmed by four generations of the Burgess family and boasts a newspaper history going back 200 years to the Carlisle Patriot. John Burgess, great grandfather of current CN Group chairman Robin Burgess, became the newspaper’s editor in 1868.

Newsquest’s buyout of the Cumbria-based group, which publishes seven newspaper titles – including daily the Carlisle News & Star – and four magazine titles, is expected to be completed after a shareholder meeting on 9 March.

The board said it had taken the decision to end CN Group’s independence because it believes its long-term future, its staff and pensioners are “better protected as part of a larger, scaled operation”.

Robin Burgess, chairman of CN Group, said: “A member of my family has run this company for the past four generations so this sale is the end of an era and is tinged with sadness.

“However our ability to prosper as a medium-sized independent group, in light of digital and social media developments, has become increasingly difficult and it is clear that the challenges will only get harder.

“Faced with these and other issues, including the pension deficit, we came to the conclusion that a sale of the publishing business is the best way forward for all our stakeholders.

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“We are confident that under new ownership the group’s titles and sites will continue to serve their communities as they have in the past.”

CN Group sold two local radio stations, The Bay and Lakeland Radio, to Global Radio in November last year. In 2016, it closed 24 – a new national daily newspaper for the north of England – a month after launching it.

Miller Hogg, CN Group’s chief executive, said: “It is vitally important for a local media company like CN to be part of a larger and committed regional media group like Newsquest.

“We still remain a local company with local brands serving the local community. This deal will provide certainty for our local staff for a sustainable future and with a media group capable of investing for the print and digital world we live in.”

Newsquest bought independent, family-owned publisher the Isle of Wight County Press in July last year. Four months later it asked staff for voluntary redundancies.

Newsquest chief executive Henry Faure Walker said: “We look forward to the opportunity of working with the CN Group. Its staff and the community it represents in building on their great local brands and publishing expertise, and helping them forge a strong future.

“We will endeavour to support them with the scale and resources that Newsquest can provide, whilst enabling them to carry on what they have done so well for many years – namely providing first class content and advertising solutions for the people and businesses of Cumbria and the wider region.”

The National Union of Journalists has warned the UK’s local newspaper industry could soon become a duopoly of Newsquest and Trinity Mirror.

The UK’s local newspaper industry could soon become a duopoly, the National Union of Journalists said as Newsquest announced it was to take over the independent, family-owned CN Group.

Chris Morley, Newsquest NUJ co-ordinator, said: “The rate of takeover of independent newspaper operators is speeding up with apparently just two big players in the market – Trinity Mirror and Newsquest.

“With Johnston Press paralysed by its debts, the industry seems to be moving to a duopoly of giant owners which is incredibly dangerous for diversity, given the ruthless substitution of unique content for shared material, and plurality of the media.

“There is too little choice for readers and too few opportunities for journalists.”

He added: “The media ownership question is a serious issue for this country and politicians have to put away their warm words on plurality and be prepared roll up their sleeves to do something practical to keep a functioning and effective local press.”

Jane Kennedy, the union’s Northern and Midlands organiser, said the announcement of the takeover deal had come as a “complete shock” to its members.

She said Hogg would be meeting NUJ chapels to answer questions and that the Union will be writing to Faure Walker asking for an urgent meeting to discuss his plans for the company.

“We will be telling him that members are already at full stretch and there is no slack in the system,” she said.

“We will be asking him for investment so they can continue to produce the quality journalism at the heart of their communities. We will be seeking assurances that redundancies which have followed recent Newsquest purchases will not be repeated at CN Group.”

Newsquest declined to comment when asked by Press Gazette how much the buyout deal was worth and whether it had any plans to closed titles at CN Group following the merger.

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