Threat to local papers looms

Deep do-do for regional and local papers, famously more popular on the island in Ireland than anywhere else. Even so, that lean machine Johnston Press, the UK’s third largest regional newspaper group and owners of the (Belfast) Newsletter, the free sheet Belfast News and the Derry Journal and 11 former Morton local papers is suffering a massive loss in advertising revenue, of “ more than 35% in the first months of 2009. as overall revenue fell by more than 12% last year.”

Johnston’s are trying to offload 14 papers in the Republic after having gone through a rash spate of acquisition there and elsewhere om the last few years, including netting the troubled Scotsman.

The total package is expected to fetch upwards of €70m, leaving Johnston Press with a hefty writedown on the estimated €250m it spent compiling its Irish portfolio.

If the banks turn up their noses – and what do you think? – can the sale or even closure of some NI papers including the ailing Newsletter be long delayed?

Former BBC journalist and manager in Belfast, Manchester and London, Editor Spolight; Political Editor BBC NI; Current Affairs Commissioning editor BBC Radio 4; Editor Political and Parliamentary Programmes, BBC Westminster; former London Editor Belfast Telegraph. Hon Senior Research Fellow, The Constitution Unit, Univ Coll. London