Reach, the UK’s largest local newspaper publisher, plans to cut 550 jobs as the pandemic deepens the struggles of a group whose titles include The Mirror and the Liverpool Echo.
The decision to cut 12 per cent of the workforce came alongside plans to move to “fewer locations”, and introduce a more centralised structure across its titles in an effort to cut duplication and improve efficiency.
The pandemic has had a bruising effect on the newspaper business, which was already facing falling circulation and lower advertising spend. In the decade to 2018, roughly 250 British local news outlets closed, according to industry magazine the Press Gazette.
Jim Mullen, Reach’s chief executive, said in a statement on Tuesday that “structural change in the media sector has accelerated during the pandemic” requiring “plans to transform the business”.
The group, which put roughly 1,000 members of staff on the government’s furlough scheme in April, said that revenues in the quarter to June 28 were down 27.5 per cent compared with the same period last year. Print revenues were hit harder, dropping 29.5 per cent, while digital revenues fell a more modest 14.8 per cent.
Circulation of its print titles remained significantly below pre Covid-19 levels, the group said, but had shown recent improvement as the government began to ease its lockdown measures.
The overhaul announced on Tuesday will generate savings of £35m a year but cost £20m to implement, Reach said. A 45-day consultation on the job losses would start shortly.
Regional news groups, including Reach’s rivals Newsquest and Archant, have drawn criticism for underinvesting in local papers.
Mr Mullen, who took over as chief executive last year, in February unveiled plans to offset declining print revenues with a plan to get more readers to hand over their data.
The group’s titles, which include the Daily Star and Express newspapers, in May had 47m online readers but only 2.5m of these were registered and had given the group consent to access information such as their email address or postcode.
Reach’s share price, which has halved since February, fell by 8 per cent in early trading.