The saga over the future of local newspapers in Kent has taken a fresh and unexpected turn after the KM Group decided to launch a new title.
Northcliffe Media wanted to sell the Sittingbourne-based East Kent Gazette to its local rival along with six other Kent titles, but the deal collapsed after intervention from competition watchdogs.
It then decided to close the 156-year-old Gazette along with its stablemate the Medway News, with final souvenir editions of the two papers appearing this week.
However, thwarted in its bid to buy the Gazette, the KM Group has now decided to launch a new paid-for title covering the same patch.
The new title – the Sittingbourne News Extra – will go on sale next Wednesday with a cover price of 65p
It will be dedicated entirely to Sittingbourne, including seven pages of sport, while 12 columnists have been signed up to write for the paper on a rolling basis.
The new paper is being produced by the team behind the 153-year-old Sheerness Times Guardian, with additional journalists being brought in to help.
The KM Group will continue to publish the Sittingbourne Messenger on a Friday, which offers a wider mix of local and county-wide content.
KM Group chairman Geraldine Allinson said the company had always believed readers, advertisers and staff would have benefited from the proposed deal to purchase the KRNM titles going ahead.
She added: “We believe there is a real need for a community newspaper serving the people of Sittingbourne, and if the KRNM deal had gone ahead we would certainly have continued to publish the East Kent Gazette.
“The reaction from readers following the decision to close the title, including a well-backed Facebook campaign, gives further support to that view.
“We hope readers and advertisers will support the new title, which will be devoted entirely to the Sittingbourne area. We look forward to providing people with a truly local voice.”
Editor Matt Ramsden said: “We are very conscious that people quite rightly had a close bond with the East Kent Gazette and that we cannot hope to replace 156 years of history. However, we hope we can work with the community to deliver a newspaper that, in time, they will think of as their own.
“Most of our team already have very strong ties to the Sittingbourne area and we hope people will welcome this launch.”
Gazette readers had launched a Facebook campaign to save the doomed title, whose final edition yesterday featured a selection of front pages from its long history.
Northcliffe Media has previously said it would consider any well-funded proposals to transfer the title to new ownership provided it had a credible business model.