For 130 years The Citizen served the city of Gloucester, producing the evening paper from offices in St John’s Lane, backing onto the Norman cathedral. It printed there, in the heart of the medieval city, until 1988 when new presses were installed on industrial estate.
Now the owners, Northcliffe Newspapers, have closed the office and moved the staff to share space with the Gloucestershire Echo in Cheltenham, a similar-sized town about 8 miles away. Today, a brief on Hold the Front Page says, Citizen staff have started working from a new office in the city. Four reporters and a photographer will have their desks there.
Editor Ian Mean said: “The Citizen has a good reputation among the people of Gloucester — it’s very dear to them — and I wanted reporters and photographers based in Gloucester.”
It is a distant sort of comment from a man who is running the city’s newspaper: “them” rather than “us”.
The local MP, Parmjit Dhanda, told a wake in Gloucester: “My constituents will be the poorer for not having a newspaper produced in the city. I fear this could be the first step of a whole-scale merger with the Echo, leaving Gloucester with nothing.”
According to a National Union of Journalists report of the wake, the paper had to send a reporter from Cheltenham and a freelance photographer from the Forest of Dean to cover it.
Northcliffe Newspapers has also closed the printing works of the South Wales Evening Post in Swansea and transferred printing to the Gloucestershire presses 100 miles away. They recently told a Welsh Assembly committee that it had not affected reporters’ deadlines.
The Daily Mail and General Trust, owners of Northcliffe, also own Associated Newspapers publishers of the Daily Mail and its Sunday companion, the London Evening Standard and Metro, the free Lodon morning paper.
It is a bit smaller, turning over Â£520 million to make an operating profit of Â£102 million, or 20%. DMGT is not content with that.
Cost-cutting had already started last year when they decided to sell the group. But, after looking at three bids, decided that “to retain Northcliffe and restructure it will deliver greater value to shareholders than a sale in the current trading conditions”.
In March the true extent of the cost-cutting was revealed in a press release:
When the Aim Higher project was first announced in June 2005, it was expected to realise a reduction in costs throughout Northcliffe of at least Â£20 million p.a. within an 18 month period. In November this estimate was increased to Â£30 million p.a.
As a result of further development of the original project, together with the expected result of today’s announcement, we now expect the total reduction in Northcliffe’s costs, excluding Aberdeen Journals [sold], to amount to at least Â£45 million p.a.
What this means is that they are aiming to increase their profit margin to close to close the gap on other regional operators including Johnston Press which has achieved 29%.
That is why the citizens of Gloucester have already half-lost the paper that served them from St John’s Lane for 130 years: to deliver short term profits for investors who believe newspapers are doomed.