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Citizen Binned

Author: 
John Freeman
(Updated 17/12/08): The closure of the Lancaster Citizen office in November has sadly proved to be the first stage in a slow death for the City's once most read free newspaper. virtual-lancaster now has confirmation that, as suggested last week, the paper is one of several North West freesheets that is soon to close, despite claims that a consultation on the viability of the title would not be completed until 7 January.

virtual-lancaster sources tell us the last publication is planned for next week (24 December) but there is no guarantee that will happen.

Any staff still working on the paper are apparently being expected to either work in Blackburn or accept an offer of redundancy.

The national Guardian reported on Monday that up to 11 editorial jobs are under threat if proposals to close its Citizen series of free weekly papers in Blackpool, Preston and Lancaster and move the operation of its Chorley edition to Blackburn go ahead. A number of non-editorial roles, including jobs in the ad sales team, are also understood to be at risk as the papers close.

The closures, which have been met with anger from NewsQuest employees across the North Wets already riled by high-handed claims of 'sacrfice' by Newsquest's US directors, Gannett, are part of a plan announced last week to make drastic cutbacks to its regional newspaper publishing operation in the North West, including closing 11 newspapers.

It seems strange to us here at virtual-lancaster that this decision has been taken so suddenly after the closure of the Lancaster office (see earlier news story). Strangely, checking this year's Hollings, the Citizen address is given as Blackburn rather than Lancaster, which runs counter to Newsquest management claims this summer that they were looking for new office premises for the Lancaster paper.

While Newsquest has yet to comment on the closure claims -- as indicated, its consultation process based on the Guardian's earlier report on the group's woes was supposed to be completed in January -- a Newsquest north-west staff member told MediaGuardian.co.uk "there is real anger and it comes from abandonment of communities like Blackpool and Preston.

"It has given [Lancaster Guardian and Morecambe Visitor owners] Johnston Press a monopoly in these towns. We're all shell-shocked good journalists are being put on the scrapheap".

We're told there's huge anger among NewsQuest employees at their treatment by their bosses and Gannett, which owns newspapers such as USA Today. In November, HoldtheFrontPage.co.uk, a website for journalists and journalism students, reported that an e-mail championing the "deep sacrifices" being made by Craig Dubow, chairman and president of Newsquest's American parent company Gannett, caused anger among employees.

The email reported Dubow had taken a $200,000 (17pc) pay cut from 1 November, continuing through 2009, reducing his salary to around $1million per annum.

Despite the problems facing the Citizen group, Gannett would actually seem to be doing rather well from the credit crunch. CFO.com reports the media company is using the turmoil in the debt markets to retire debt and save money, and has just bought almost $100 million of floating rate notes at a 5 percent discount enabled by the shaky debt market.

• As reported this week in The Independent, US newspapers companies and individual titles are suffering badly, facing already declining print sales as younger readers migrate to the Internet, reduced classified adveritising revenues with the popularity of net-based services such as Craiglist, and the huge hit they have taken to display advertising revenues as the credit crunch has hit property and other sales, reducing property agents demands for ad space.

The Chicago Tribune Company recently filed for bankruptcy and The New York Times is deep in debt. Across the country's 1,400 titles, 15,000 jobs have been lost this year, according to Paper Cuts, a website monitoring lay-offs – more than one out of every eight. The Christian Science Monitor will become the first national newspaper to drop its daily print edition next year and focus on publishing online.

Regional newspapers' Washington and overseas bureaux are being shuttered, as the US industry's resources – still rich by international standards – become stretched. As in the UK, the blame for the crisis is being put at the door of the newspaper's owners and managers, with a cadre of past and present Los Angeles Times journalists now launching a lawsuit against billionaire property tycoon Sam Zell over his leadership of their parent company.

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