Businessman asks for delay to Newsquest Isle of Wight County Press buyout while he develops rival bid

A local businessman has called on the board of the Isle of Wight County Press to delay its proposed sale to Newsquest for two months while he develops a rival bid to buy the independent publisher.

Company director Norman Arnold, also chairman of the Isle of Wight Development Board, has said the weekly newspaper, which was first published in 1884, is an “island institution” that would lose its affinity with the area if sold off to a “media giant”.

Newsquest has made a takeover bid for the County Press, which also owns Isle of Wight news website Yoppul, with shareholders having been advised to accept the offer.

Arnold said: “The County Press stands alongside a handful of companies… who are more than just local businesses – they are island institutions. They understand the island and they relate to islanders.

“I fear that affinity with the island will inevitably be lost if the County Press is sold to Newsquest, a huge company that is known in the industry for being a profits-driven organisation that dispenses with traditional specialist roles such as specialist sub-editing.

“It is inconceivable that jobs currently carried out here by trained County Press staff – Islanders – will be lost and my fear is that quality will suffer as a result.”

Newsquest announced the closure of its subbing hubs in Weymouth, Dorset, and Newport, Wales, in recent months, resulting in mass redundancies.

A report on the state of local news, commissioned by the National Union of Journalists and published in March, showed that over a 17-month period, Newsquest had cut 139 job roles – the highest of any UK regional publisher.

Last month, however, it announced the creation of two new paid-for/free titles covering Dorset.

Said Arnold: “Everyone knows the media landscape is changing and more and more people are  getting their news from non-print sources. The County Press is no exception and it must adapt to survive, but I firmly believe that evolution can continue in a local context.

“The County Press does not need to be run from the mainland by a media giant in order to survive and thrive.

“All we ask is that shareholders take a pause and allow us to develop a bid that I am sure can rival that of Newsquest and ensure the paper can retain the character that makes it so special.”

The Isle of Wight County Press newspaper has an average weekly circulation of more than 25,000, according to ABC figures for the six months to December last year.

Robin Freeman, chief executive of the Isle of Wight County Press Group, said last month: “Newsquest is a very well-respected and highly professional group and I very much hope the next chapter of the County Press’ life will be as part of its group.”

Today he said of the rival bid: “The Directors have received no specific proposals from Mr Arnold and they are not in a position to consider them.”

Newsquest has declined to comment.

Those interested in supporting a local bid for the County Press can contact Arnold via keeplocalnewslocal@yahoo.com.

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