The Times and Sunday Times newspapers have been given permission from the Government to start sharing more journalists and other resources.
The News UK titles have separate editors and editorial teams but have now been granted more flexibility to share staff across the two newsrooms.
It is still unclear what exactly the changes will mean, with the company repeatedly declining to comment on potential staffing cuts.
In a joint email to staff today, Times editor John Witherow and Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens said the move would help “avoid duplication where possible” to help them “stay competitive”.
But they said the titles will “will maintain our distinctive voices”, adding: “Our future lies in making our excellent journalism more flexible, digital and available on other media such as podcasts and radio.
“The two titles have a great future as long as we adapt to the changing media world around us.”
News UK applied to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport in January to ask for a “small change” to undertakings first put in place to maintain the independence of both titles when Rupert Murdoch bought them in 1981.
Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright announced in April he was “minded” to accept the application but subsequently told News UK it needed to update its proposals “to reflect corporate best practice” in its governance arrangements.
A consultation was opened on the revised proposals last month and, after the Government received just two submissions which raised no issues of concern, Wright said today the changes can go ahead.
The undertakings state that the Times and Sunday Times must be published as separate titles and that Times Newspapers cannot sell or dispose of any interest in them without consent from a majority of its six independent directors.
They add that each editor will continue to control all aspects of their respective newspapers, including political comment and the hiring and firing of journalists, with the exception of advertising.
Witherow and Ivens said: “The original legal undertakings were put in place to protect our independence when News acquired both titles in 1981. Due to persistent cost pressures, we requested more flexibility so that we can share some resources across the two papers.
“The revised undertakings ring-fence The Sunday Times and The Times as separate newspapers with separate editors and separate budgets. They allow the sharing of ‘services and resources, including journalists, to such extent as the editors agree’.”
Ivens said in January the end to duplication across the titles would mean they can “invest more in the agenda-setting journalism we are famous for”.
Witherow said at the time the request was driven by the “need to stay competitive in an increasingly difficult market”.
The National Union of Journalists consulted its members on the proposals after they were announced in January and has warned that “cuts are likely to follow”.
A spokesperson said today: “The NUJ remains concerned that the proposals will lead to job cuts, a decline in the quality of journalism in both papers and a subsequent decline in sales.
“A change to the undertakings puts both newspapers in jeopardy.
“To share staff would dilute the differences between the newspapers and have an adverse impact on media plurality. Both papers have a distinctive voice which would be irrevocably lost if cost-cutting is prioritised at the expense of quality journalism.”
Press reform campaign group Hacked Off organised a petition calling on the Government to refuse the request, saying it fears the quality and integrity of the two newspapers would be put at risk by the move and “pave the way for redundancies”.