The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has issued a warning that Trinity Mirror and Newsquest may form a newspaper duopoly over the regions of the UK due to the rate that they are acquiring newsbrands.
The declaration comes in response to Newsquest’s impending takeover of the CN Group, an independent Carlisle-based group that publishes two regional dailies and five weeklies including The Mail in Barrow -in-Furness, the Carlisle News & Star.
Newsquest, owned by Gannett, boasts more than 165 newsbrands in addition to 40 magazines. The sale is expected to go through next month, bringing 324 staff members under its wing.
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.”
Morley branded the Johnston Press (which recently acquired i) as “paralysed by its debts,” increasing the possibility of a newspaper duopoly which he said would be “incredibly dangerous for diversity, given the ruthless substitution of unique content for shared material, and plurality of the media.” He said this will affect both readers and journalists."
He concluded: “The CN papers have had a proud history of caring for and being a leading part of their communities. Despite the very best efforts of its journalists, this is not something that can typically be said about Newsquest with its relentless drive to strip out editorial jobs and fill the gap with user-generated content.
“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.”
On the sale to Newsquest, 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. 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.”
On the acquisition, Henry Faure Walker, chief executive of Newsquest, offered a more upbeat perspective. He 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."