REPORTER Group journalists will not only be homeless by the end of the month but out of pocket too, after their owners Johnston Press announced that they were slashing car mileage expenses almost in half.
The iconic Dewsbury Reporter building is shortly to be abandoned by the Edinburgh-based company, following the closure of offices in Cleckheaton, Batley and Morley.
Reporters are to work ‘mobile’ on their phones and laptops – but the cost to them of covering the district will be a high one, as JP is planning to cut mileage from 45p per mile to a paltry 25p.
And the business suffered a new blow at the end of February with news that their readership has plummeted to an all-time low.
Readers have been abandoning the Dewsbury and Mir-field Reporter, Batley and Birstall News and Spenborough Guardian in record numbers – around 13% a year.
The latest ABC (Audit Bureau of Circulation) figures for 2013 repeat the pattern of recent years with annual double-digit declines.
Dewsbury & Mirfield Reporter: 7,186 (-12.8%)
Batley & Birstall News:
Spen Guardian: 4,933 (-12.9%)
Current sales are thought to be significantly lower, as these figures date back nearly 15 months.
Owner Johnston Press’s response has been to make many of the company’s sports, photographic and sub-editing journalists redundant and produce the paper from Wake-field, with sales staff moved to Leeds.
The heavily debt-ridden company recently tried to sell an Irish newspaper group it paid £165 million for in 2005, at a knockdown price of £7m. It has been selling off assets in a bid to service £300m of debt.
Publisher of The Press and former Reporter group boss Danny Lockwood, called the developments “sad”.
“When I launched The Press in 2002 it was in the belief that competition is good for any business,” he said. “A lot of people like me who took great pride in working for the Reporter group will feel incredibly sad at this decline.
“I’ve always thought that a local paper is the beating heart of a community and JP’s actions aren’t so much about a transplant, as hanging a ‘do not resuscitate’ sign over the patient’s bed.”
Mr Lockwood said The Press is increasing levels of its free doorstep and bulk distribution, in addition to “rising” paid-for sales from traditional news outlets.
“Local people who want to pop in and talk to a reporter, or discuss their advertising needs with someone who knows the area and is here to help, are always welcome at our office on Branch Road, Batley,” he added.