JPI Media suspends print production of free newspapers

JPI Media is to temporarily stop printing a dozen of its newspaper titles as local and regional news groups suffer the consequences of the coronavirus outbreak, with a sharp decrease in advertising spending forcing them to make drastic cuts.

The company, which publishes the Scotsman and Yorkshire Post, said it would stop printing its free papers from Monday following a “substantial reduction in advertising”.

JPI’s distributors could no longer “guarantee” the delivery of free newspapers directly to people’s households, David King, the company’s chief executive, said in an email to staff.

“However, we recognise the important role we play in our communities [and] will continue to update our websites in these markets with relevant information,” he added.

Titles affected by JPI’s move include the MK Citizen in Milton Keynes and the News Guardian in North Tyneside.

The local newspaper industry, which has been struggling with declining ad revenues, is likely to be badly hit by the outbreak as marketing budgets contract. In little over a decade the UK has lost more than 250 regional titles, while sales of local papers have fallen by more than half, according to research by trade magazine the Press Gazette and advisory firm Mediatique.

JPI said it intended to retain staff during the next few months and that it was “carefully exploring” government support, which includes the offer of subsidised leave.

Its approach differed from rival Newsquest, which on Tuesday said it would send home a “significant number” of employees on furlough and cut the pay of remaining staff by 15 per cent on earnings over £18,000.

Newsquest publishes titles such as the Northern Echo and is owned by Gannett, one of the largest news groups in the US. The National Union of Journalists criticised Newsquest’s move, arguing it had a “moral obligation” to support staff who “have been working tirelessly” to provide readers with coronavirus coverage.

Both JPI and Newsquest declined to comment further.

Last week commuter newspaper the Evening Standard decided to slash its print circulation by just over a third and experiment with delivering editions to people living in central London, citing a tough market for ad spending and limits on movement as coronavirus forces workers to stay at home.

Rival free sheet City AM has also temporarily stopped printing its roughly 90,000 daily copies and cut salaries by half.

JPI, formerly known as Johnston Press, nearly collapsed in 2018 under the weight of its debt before being saved by its lenders in a pre-pack administration deal. Last year it sold the i newspaper to Daily Mail and General Trust but has abandoned previous plans to sell its roughly 200 regional titles.

Reach, the UK’s largest regional news publisher which also owns tabloids the Daily Mirror, Star and Express, did not respond to a request for comment. Archant, another local news group that owns the Eastern Daily Press and several titles in London, also did not respond to a request for comment.