Newsquest is planning to launch a new weekly in Cumbria amid uncertainty over the future of independent title the Cumberland and Westmorland Herald, which is still seeking a buyer.
The 160-year-old Herald was forced to appoint administrators this month as an increasing deficit in its defined benefits pension scheme added to “longstanding pressures” facing regional print newspapers.
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But the Penrith-based weekly paper will continue publishing for at least another two weeks as talks with potential buyers continue.
Its editor hit out today at Newsquest’s plans to launch on its patch.
In a message on the Herald’s website, Emily Atherton said: “Myself and the staff at the Herald are committed to keeping this newspaper going and remaining at the heart of your community.
“We continue in our fight to preserve the Herald and need the support of our readers and advertisers now more than ever.”
Newsquest said it would launch the Cumberland and Westmorland Gazette, priced at 80p, 20p cheaper than the Herald, on Friday “in the absence of any certainty” around the Herald’s future. It will also have its own website.
The publisher said the launch would create new jobs in Penrith in addition to its existing 34 reporters in Cumbria, but is yet to give an indication of numbers.
The Cumberland and Westmorland Herald employs 20 staff members, having made six employees redundant with immediate effect when it went into administration on 3 February.
Newsquest’s title will be edited by Vanessa Sims, group editor for Cumbria, who said it would be a “stablemate” to the publisher’s existing papers in the county: the Cumberland News and the Westmorland Gazette.
“I’m sure readers will be impressed when they see what the new Cumberland and Westmorland Gazette has to offer in print and online,” she said.
David Rose, managing director for Newsquest Cumbria, said: “Nobody understands Cumbria better than the team behind the launch of this new title and website, and the Cumberland and Westmorland Gazette is a natural extension of our coverage in Penrith and the surrounding area.
“It is essential that Penrith and the Eden Valley continues to benefit from its own newspaper and local news website.
“The uncertainty over the future of the Herald is causing concern to the newspaper’s staff, and the wider community, and Newsquest Cumbria is pleased to step in to help.”
Newsquest is offering readers of the first edition of the Gazette a free copy of its Cumbria Life magazine, which is normally sold for £4.95.
The most recent edition of the Herald ran a message on its front page telling readers: “The fight to save the Herald continues. Administrators are in talks with potential buys and there will be an edition published next week.”
The newspaper has published a number of letters from readers showing their support since it went into administration.
One said the Herald was a “valuable — nay, vital — part of our society” while another described it as the “best truly local newspaper I have ever read”.
On Monday, the Herald pledged to be the “eyes and ears” of the Eden Valley “as long as [it] continues”, saying its coverage on flooding affecting the area was “evidence of the important role played by locally-focused news media”.
Joint administrator Howard Smith said: “From the outset of our appointment, we have been struck by the sheer strength of affection for the Herald. It really is a cornerstone of the local community with a proud and longstanding heritage.
“We’re therefore pleased to say we’ve received a number of offers for the business and have continued to publish the paper to allow ongoing discussions with interested parties in the hope of achieving a positive outcome.”
Newsquest acquired its Cumbrian titles in 2018 when it bought the family-run CN Group for an undisclosed sum.
Since then the National Union of Journalists has accused it of making “catastrophic cuts” to its Carlisle newsroom, although the publisher argued the redundancies meant it could continue to invest in frontline reporters.