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Newspaper production in city ends after 140 years

The last edition of the Sunderland Echo to be printed in the city rolled off the presses on Saturday, bringing to an end almost 140 years of newspaper production in the city.

Publisher Johnston Press has closed the Sunderland plant in Pennywell and moved production of the Echo and sister titles the Shields Gazette and Hartlepool Mail to Sheffield.

The closure plan was first unveiled in September, shortly before Echo editor Rob Lawson announced he was quitting, although he said later that he had already taken the decision to leave.

Around 80 jobs have been lost as a result of the closure which leaves JP with just two remaining print plants in England.

The Echo carried news of the closure in Saturday’s edition together with together with video interviews with some of the printers.

They included Frank Nicholson who first joined the Echo at the age of 17 in 1971 and has been a permanent fixture in the press hall for more than a quarter of a century.

“I came into the machine room in 1987 and have basically been here ever since,” he said.

“You would be hard pressed to find somewhere else that has got the same atmosphere as this. You build up a personal, as well as a working relationship with people over the years.”

Stuart Birkett, managing director of Johnston Press’ Northeast Publishing Unit, said: “In many ways, the Echo has been unusual in retaining a local press on site at Sunderland for so long.

“But to remain competitive as a business, it is important we change with the times.

“Only three decades ago, our titles in the North East were printed on five different presses across the region. Now, new modern, efficient, high-capacity presses, coupled with changes to publishing portfolios, mean newspapers across the land are invariably printed on a much smaller number of larger presses.

“We’ve got a great team of people producing our papers and I know every one of them will join me in thanking our printers for their brilliant service over the years.”

Acting editor Richard Ord promised the Echo would still serve the community of Sunderland but admitted the print room would be missed.

“While the stories that appear in the Echo will still be produced here in Sunderland, the loss of the press really is the end of an era,” he said.

“We will still make the news here, but the presses, for many historical, human and emotional reasons, will be greatly missed.”

Editorial, commercial and support staff for the Echo, Gazette and Mail will continue to be based at Pennywell.

JP has now axed three of its five print plants in England over the course of this year, with the Leeds printing centre closing in March with the loss of 25 jobs and Peterborough’s in June when 35 jobs were lost.

As well as Dinnington, the company retains a print plant in Portsmouth but this has also recently seen job losses due to falling demand.