Northcliffe Digital is to restructure its network of ‘Local People’ sites with a net loss of around 75 freelance publisher roles.
The company currently employs around 100 community publishers on a freelance basis, each with responsibility for an individual Local People portal.
All the existing community publishers were told yesterday that their contracts would not be renewed after the end of August.
However the company is also creating around 25 new freelance community publisher roles, with each one looking after a number of sites within Northcliffe’s existing local newspaper footprint.
These roles will be focused mainly in the East Midlands, South-East, North-East and South-West and the first 12 have already been advertised on HoldtheFrontPage.
Around 20 Local People sites that fall outside the footprint are to be offered on the open market as franchises at a starting rate of £6,995 + VAT.
It is understood that these include a number of sites in East Anglia that were originally launched in an attempt to expand the company’s sphere of operations.
Those which fail to attract any offers are likely to be closed down.
The company said in a statement: “Northcliffe Digital has conducted a review of Local People sites. From August 2012, dedicated community publishers will be appointed to look after a portfolio of Local People sites that sit within Northcliffe Media’s overall footprint.
“The current publishing structure uses one freelance contractor per site. These contracts will expire in August.
“This approach means Local People will have the benefit of more experienced publishers covering a broader remit and will streamline the running of the business.
“Local People sites that sit outside Northcliffe’s footprint will be made available as franchises. There are no other immediate plans to make changes to the sites.”
One former Northcliffe staffer questioned the timing of the announcement straight after the Jubilee weekend which saw many of the community publishers out and about attending local celebrations.
He said: “Apparently the bigwigs woke up after the bank holiday and, on the spur of the moment, decided on a “restructure” involving getting shot of all the community publishers.
“A cynic might suggest that they had made up their minds some time before but wanted to wring the absolute utmost out of the poor saps running round taking snaps of Jubilee jollifications.
“I suspect many community publishers will feel rather used.”
Today’s announcement represents the first major restructuring of Northcliffe’s digital operation since it was brought back under the direct control of Northcliffe Media in April.
Previously Northcliffe Digital was a standalone business unit headed by former MD Roland Bryan, now running online deals platform Wowcher.
The Local People sites attracted 840,000 unique visitors in May 2012.
They were originally launched in July 2009 and were designed to complement Northcliffe’s existing thisis network of newspaper companion sites by providing a more hyperlocal offering for readers and advertisers.