Regional publisher Johnston Press is planning to close two daily newspaper offices in the North-East and create a new editorial hub in Sunderland.
Staff at the Hartlepool Mail and the Shields Gazette were told yesterday that their offices were to close in the next two months.
In future journalists and advertising staff from both titles will be based at the offices of JP sister title the Sunderland Echo -17 miles away from Hartlepool and five miles away from South Shields.
There are expected to be six editorial redundancies and nine advertising redundancies as a result of the move.
The announcement was made to staff yesterday morning in a statement by Stuart Birkett, managing director of the company’s North-East publishing unit.
It said the proposed changes followed “a detailed review of office accommodation in the North-East, and the requirement to ensure that the business needs continue to be met.”
The company proposes to create a single business unit centred on the head office of Northeast Press Limited at Pennywell Road in Sunderland, where South Shields and Hartlepool editorial and advertising staff will be based.
As well as the South Shields and Hartlepool offices, the existing newspaper offices at Berwick, Kelso and Selkirk are also set to close.
However with the exception of Kelso, the company proposes to retain a presence in each of those communities, with the establishment of what it called “smaller customer-facing offices with hot-desk facilities.”
The statement also made clear that all Berwick and Selkirk editorial and advertising staff will continue to be based locally.
It continued: “Should these proposals go ahead, we anticipate that there would be a reduction in the number of staff within the combined business of 6 FTE within editorial and of 9 FTE in advertising. However, it is hoped that this can be achieved through voluntary redundancy and transfer to alternative positions.
“Should sufficient volunteers not be achieved, the company can not rule out the use of compulsory redundancies.
“Prior to any implementation, we will consult with affected staff and their representatives during the consultation process we will explain the business rationale, answer any questions and address any other issues that may arise.
“We anticipate that this consultation process will be completed by 17 May 2012.”
Earlier this week, JP chief executive Ashley Highfield said in a presentation to investors that there would be “regional editorial hubs where relevant.”
However in the same presentation he also said the company would continue to have “journalists on the ground on every town,” citing this as the company’s unique selling point.