Major towns including Milton Keynes have lost their only print newspaper, as the economic impact of the coronavirus starts to destroy parts of the struggling media industry.
JPI Media, which owns dozens of titles, told staff on Wednesday that all of its free newspapers delivered door-to-door would temporarily stop printing due to the logistical challenges of arranging delivery, alongside the catastrophic collapse in the local advertising market.
It will leave hundreds of thousands of people without their only local print newspaper, cutting off many self-isolating older readers from a key trusted source of news during the crisis.
The government has made clear that it considers reporters and print newspaper distribution staff as key workers during the crisis, due to the importance of getting accurate information to people’s homes. Last week many of the same newspapers ran front pages pledging to support their communities during the pandemic and provide accurate information, but the financial and logistical challenges have become too much.
Newspapers that will cease print publication from next week include the Bedfordshire Times & Citizen, the MK Citizen, the Luton Herald & Post, Northumberland’s News Post Leader, the Brighton & Hove Independent, North Tyneside’s News Guardian, and the Mid Sussex Gazette. They were collectively distributed to hundreds of thousands of homes and in many cases were the only remaining newspapers in their respective areas.
The West Sussex Gazette, Crawley Observer, Hemel Gazette, and Buckingham Advertiser will drastically cut their circulations as part of the plan.
JPI Media said it intended to retain journalists at the non-printing outlets to run websites. But the decision to cease printing raises questions about how long this can sustained, given that sources have suggested digital advertising revenue was already minimal at many of these outlets. Instead they relied heavily on income from print advertising, which has been cut heavily as small businesses cut spending.
Staff were told that JPI was “carefully exploring how we can use the various government schemes available to support both the business and our staff”.
It intends to continue to produce its paid-for print newspapers that can be sold at supermarkets and newsagents during the crisis. These often cover larger areas and cities and include titles such as the Yorkshire Post, Blackpool Gazette, and the Scotsman.
The impact on the already financially struggling local news industry has been swift. Free newspapers relying on print advertising are particularly badly hit. London’s City AM has ceased print publication and the Evening Standard has resorted to door-to-door delivery in the absence of commuters.
On Tuesday, Newsquest, another of the UK’s biggest local newspaper groups, told its staff they would all be having an immediate pay cut and said manywould be obliged to take unpaid leave.
Newsquest – which owns more than a hundred titles include Glasgow’s the Herald, the Brighton Argus, and the Northern Echo – told staff that severe cuts were on the way. They said they had already seen “very significant declines in our revenue, particularly from advertising, as many of our customers cancel or put their plans on hold”, forcing the company to make cuts.