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October 22, 2015

Johnston Press confirms plans to close two Scottish newspapers

By William Turvill

Johnston Press is planning to close two weekly newspapers in Scotland and "reposition" a third as a "community newspaper".

The publisher has said the East Lothian News and and Musselburgh News "may close as a result of a current review".

The proposed closures may result in a "small number of roles" being placed at risk of redundancy.

Johnston Press also plans on "repositioning" the Midlothian Advertiser as a "community newspaper". This would see an "increase in content contributed by readers".

A statement from the company confirmed plans for the closures: "The East Lothian News (including the Musselburgh edition) may close as a result of a current review of JP's print portfolio.

"Its future is currently being considered and staff have been informed that a small number of roles may be placed at risk if the proposals to close the title go ahead.

"A decision will be made in due course and staff updated accordingly."

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On the "community newspaper" plan, the publisher said: "To ensure we remain at the heart of our community – covering local events that matter most to our readers – we will be unveiling a new-look Midlothian Advertiser in the next few weeks. 

"The title will increase its focus on community content and our readers will play a greater role in providing more updates, features and pictures from local events, group meetings, schools and clubs – allowing our news teams to focus on more of the 'harder-hitting' news that's making a difference in the local area. It will free up more of their time to ensure they can deliver the best news and information not just in print – but online, 24-hours a day."

Euan McGrory, Midlothian Advertiser editor, said: "Our readers have a wealth of views and local knowledge that we really want to tap into and we'll be inviting them to help us shape the new look Midlothian Advertisier over the coming weeks. By involving our readers and asking them to share their news and views we'll be able to cover far more of the events that really matter to them across the area." 

If the closures go ahead, it will bring the total number of newspapers axed by Johnston Press in recent months to 17.

According to Press Gazette research, this will bring the publisher's total closure number since 2012 to at least 28.

The proposed closures have been condemned by Alison Johnstone, Green MSP for Lothian.

She said in a statement today: "I'm urging newspaper owners Johnston Press to rethink their decision to close the Musselburgh and East Lothian News titles.

"This is a dreadful decision by Johnston Press, both for readers and for staff, and adds to the already brutal cutbacks at the Edinburgh Evening News. Our communities deserve good quality local information and investigation, and a vibrant local newspaper scene is crucial to that.

"I have asked Johnston Press to explain their reasoning behind this shock decision and for assurances about the future of the skilled staff at these titles. The online media age should mean more local content, not less. Cutting staff and titles is a false economy, and I urge the owners to rethink their decision."

When last audited by ABC, in the second half of 2012, the East Lothian News series – which includes the Musselburgh edition – recorded a weekly, paid-for circulation of 3,255.

The Midlothian Advertiser recorded a circulation of 5,941 over the same period.

Johnston Press announced on 7 October that it had closed eight free newspapers and folded another three into paid-for titles.

It has also recently merged four Yorkshire newspapers into two. The Antrim Times, meanwhile, has been merged into the Ballymena Times and the Sunday Journal in Derry has closed.

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