Guardian Media Group, publisher of The Guardian and The Observer, has confirmed that it has held “exploratory talks” with rivals about selling the Manchester Evening News and its other regional newspapers.
The company said talks were at an “early stage” but declined to say which of its rivals it had held discussions with.
A GMG spokesman said: “In line with its remit GMG keeps its portfolio under review on an ongoing basis.
“Since the publication of the Digital Britain report we have been considering the potential for further consolidation within the regional press sector, and as part of this there have been some exploratory talks regarding our regional media business.
“However these are at a very early stage and it is not clear whether they will progress or what the outcome is likely to be.”
An unnamed source told the Daily Telegraph this morning that GMG was considering the sale of its regional media operation, which includes the flagship MEN, in an attempt to save 100 jobs at the two national newspapers published by the Guardian News & Media division of the business.
Senior Guardian sources poured cold water on that suggestion. One told Press Gazette the link with GNM was “nonsense”.
The source said: “It’s not about ‘saving 100 jobs’ it’s about keeping all options open.”
Talks with Trinity Mirror would be logical as it already publishes around 250 regional papers across the country, including the Liverpool Echo and the Liverpool Post.
Trinity Mirror is also linked to GMG as it prints the Manchester Evening News and the Manchester Metro News on its presses in the north-west.
GMG Regional Media is predominantly based in the North West, running the MEN, more than 20 weeklies in and around Manchester and the Channel M regional TV station.
However, it also owns papers in Surrey and Berkshire that includes the Reading Evening Post and Surrey Advertiser.
GMG, which is owned by the Scott Trust, is obliged to safeguard the future of The Guardian “in perpetuity” through the operation of its other businesses but this obligation does not extend to other newspapers in its group.
Selling the Manchester Evening News would mark break from GMG’s roots in the north-west as the Guardian was founded as The Manchester Guardian in 1821, becoming the Guardian in 1959 prior to its move to London.
GMG Regional made a profit of £500,000 in the 12 months to March on turnover of £94.5m, down from £14.3m in the same period the previous year when turnover was £120.5m.
Overall, GMG lost £89.8m in the year to March, compared with a profit of £306m in 2008, when it had a windfall from the sale of its 50 per cent share of Auto Trader.