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Newspaper dubbed ‘Britain’s biggest’ to shut for good after seven years

A weekly newspaper dubbed “Britain’s biggest” at the time of its launch is closing for good after seven years in print.

Reach plc has announced the closure of the Manchester Weekly News in a move that will also see it cease free distribution of the Manchester Evening News from the middle of August.

The company has made the decision, which it calls a “pivotal moment”, on the grounds that it can now reach potential customers for its advertisers at a greater scale digitally than through free print products.

The closure of the Weekly News was announced this afternoon by Darren Thwaites, marketplace publisher responsible for operations at Reach.

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In a message to staff, Darren said: “I want to share with you a pivotal moment in the history of MEN Media – thanks to the amazing growth of our digital readership.

“For many years we’ve flooded Manchester with free newspapers to ensure advertisers were able to reach lots of customers – but we can now offer smarter digital solutions at greater scale, which means we no longer need to do so.

“As a result, we’ll be closing the final two editions of the Manchester Weekly News (Salford and Trafford) and ceasing free distribution of the Manchester Evening News from the middle of August.

“This means our print portfolio will be entirely paid-for, every sale contributing to really important circulation revenues.

“Advertisers will continue to have varied options in print (daily, Sunday and weeklies) but the overwhelming majority of ad spend will be served online, in line with customer demand. That’s thanks to a combination of our massive digital scale and more effective advertising solutions enabled by our customer value strategy.

“It’s a dramatic change in the shape of the business in just a few years and it would not have been possible but for our growth as a digital publisher.

“We’re leaving behind a declining, high-cost market and pouring our energies into the fastest growth area of the business.”

The Weekly News was initially launched with eight editions – Salford, Tameside & Oldham, Stockport East, Stockport West, South Manchester, Sale & Altrincham, Stretford & Urmston, and Wilmslow – in April 2015 to replace the Stockport Times, Wilmslow Express and the Advertiser series in Tameside, Salford, Oldham and Trafford.

In 2020, it underwent a five-month hiatus due to the coronavirus crisis.

At the time of its launch it was dubbed “Britain’s biggest free weekly”, an accolade since challenged by the Midland News Association’s Chronicle Week title.

The Weekly News had an average circulation of 123,822 during 2021, according to its latest ABC certificate.

The move by Reach will not result in any job losses, but Darren said it would “help significantly reduce costs in the face of the exceptional inflationary pressures impacting print”.

He added: “It’s important to say that part-free print distribution was the right solution at the time. Back in the Noughties, as the business tried to give advertisers the best reach possible, the hybrid model was seen as pioneering.

“However, the reach we sought to retain in print is now eclipsed by the audience we generate online – so we’re leading the way once again with a fresh, bold approach.

“I’d like to thank everyone for their amazing contribution in allowing us to make this decision. That’s not just our brilliant digital content teams but also our super-talented print production colleagues who keep our paid-for portfolio in competitive shape even in challenging times.”

Darren went on to thank staff after Sarah Lester took over from him as editor of the MEN last month.

He said: “It’s been a period of massive transformation since I joined as editor in early 2018. We’ve been buffeted by external forces none of us could have imagined but we’ve emerged with a very solid platform for sustainable growth, underpinning the quality journalism of which we’re so proud.

“We’re generating more than 2.3m extra page views every day in 2022 than we did in 2018, hitting a record 146m in July. We lead the way as the biggest digital publisher in UK regional media, totally dominant in Greater Manchester and, quite staggeringly, also serving 1 in 3 Brits every month.

“I’ll continue to watch Manchester with both interest and affection as I move into my new group role. I’m looking forward to working with talented people across the Reach portfolio to help implement editorial strategy in digital and print.

“We’re seeking to build a bright and sustainable future for regional journalism – and Manchester has passed an important milestone on that journey.

“I know the MEN is in great hands for the future under the leadership of Sarah Lester and I look forward to seeing much more success in the years ahead.”

Darren’s move to the operations brief means Marc Reeves, marketplace publisher for Reach’s regional titles, rakes overall responsibility for its northern publications.