The office of the Chester Chronicle will close next month, with owner Reach arguing the move will stop it being forced from getting rid of journalists on the title.
The closure of the Maple House office in Sealand Road, Chester on 12 July will leave the weekly newspaper without a base in the city for the first time in its 244-year history.
The National Union of Journalists said about 14 journalists are affected by the closure, plus a number of commercial staff. No jobs have been put at risk.
Employees have been given the choice of working from home or from Reach’s offices in Liverpool (about 45 minutes from Chester by car), Colwyn Bay (40 minutes) or Chadderton in Manchester (one hour and 10 minutes).
It is understood most have indicated they will work from home, with some planning a combination of home and office working.
Chris Walker, Reach’s regional managing editor for the North West and Wales, said: “We’re pleased to say that it has been a strong year for Cheshire Live and our print titles the Chester and Crewe Chronicles.
“Reducing operating costs will enable us to continue to build on the success of Cheshire Live and retain our talented journalists based in Cheshire, who will continue to serve the region and report on the topics that are important to our local audience.”
Cheshire Live was launched in September with the merger of the websites of the Chester Chronicle, Crewe Chronicle and Macclesfield Express as part of Reach’s nationwide Live strategy of separating print and digital teams.
According to the NUJ, the office closure could save Reach tens of thousands of pounds each year.
It follows the closure of the Chronicle’s sister office in Crewe five years ago, which also took place without any job losses.
David Holmes (pictured), the Chronicle’s chief reporter and the National Union of Journalists’ Cheshire father of the chapel, said: “It’s a very sad moment in the long and illustrious history of the Chronicle, which was first published on 2 May 1775, by founder John Poole during the reign of George III around the time of the American War of Independence.
“Deleting our office from the community we serve and scattering the Chester-based team to the four winds will be a challenge both in continuing to provide the same high quality coverage and for us as individuals.
“The timing of the decision is also odd given Cheshire Live was only launched last September. The chapel believes this sends out an unfortunate signal to our readers and advertisers at an important time of transition.”
According to Holmes, who has written for the Chronicle for 20 years, Reach has “not completely closed its ears” to the possibility of reopening a base in Chester in the future.
“The NUJ hopes this option is given serious consideration both for the good of the business and its hardworking employees,” he added.
“The Chronicle continues to perform well in difficult trading conditions, while Cheshire Live is just beginning to hit its stride. Our fear is the office closure will undermine the success we have achieved so far.
“It would unforgivable if these actions led to the demise of a trusted and respected publication that is due to celebrate its 250th anniversary in 2025.”
Chris Morley, the NUJ’s Northern and Midlands senior organiser, added that the office closure was “clearly” preferable to “yet another lopping of jobs which have been badly depleted in recent years”.
“But members have well-founded fears that losing a symbolic but significant physical presence in the county capital will set a tone that will make their task of convincing local readers that the company is serious about supporting their interests so much harder,” he added.
“We really hope the company will remain open to constructive suggestions and does the right thing to make any closure as least damaging to existing staff as possible.”
The Chester Chronicle had an average circulation of 6,001 in 2018, down 58 per cent from 14,313 five years earlier.