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New Newspaper Proposed - The Dominion Post

Monday, June 24 2002

Independent Newspapers Limited today announced a proposal to merge the two Wellington daily newspapers, The Dominion and The Evening Post, into a new morning newspaper, The Dominion Post.

The announcement was made by INL Chief Executive Tom Mockridge who said the proposal would achieve a much larger, stronger paper offering readers more news and features. Increased circulation would give advertisers greater reach.

Mr Mockridge said Wellington Newspapers had suffered from an advertising downturn which meant resources were stretched to sustain two separate publications. This downturn had coincided with a steady decline in The Evening Post’s circulation and a recent increase in the price of newsprint. The company believed two daily newspapers were no longer sustainable in the Wellington market.

The papers are published by INL subsidiary, Wellington Newspapers Limited. They currently have separate editorial staffs but share advertising, production and printing facilities under a single management.

Mr Mockridge said the company would consult with staff and unions over the next few days before confirming its plans at the end of the week. Subject to this consultation process, it was intended to launch the new paper in July. There was a need to implement the change in a reasonably short time frame to minimise uncertainty for readers, advertisers and staff and retain business confidence.

"While we are convinced the merged paper is the right way to go, staff will have their own views and we will consider those."

Mr Mockridge said one option had been to simply close the afternoon paper and retain The Dominion.

"But the Post is held in close affection by a large number of Wellingtonians and is too good a paper to see disappear. The best of the Post will be incorporated the new paper along with the best of The Dominion."

While job losses appeared inevitable, Mr Mockridge said the merged paper option would retain more employees than a straight closure of one of the titles. Subject to discussions, it was likely that 80-90 positions would go, across the whole company, about two-thirds of them in the editorial departments. Wellington Newspapers currently employs 490 including 30 part-timers.

The editorial department of The Dominion Post would comprise people from both newspapers. The company would, of course, discharge all its redundancy obligations and staffing issues would be worked through with unions and employees over the next three to four weeks. Where possible, the approach would be based on voluntary redundancy.

INL’s managing director publishing Rick Neville, a former Evening Post editor, said the Wellington community, Post readers and staff would regret the loss of the afternoon paper.

"This is a sad day in that Wellington has been unique in Australasia for one city to support both a morning and afternoon newspaper. However, the outcome will be a far stronger paper going forward. International experience shows that similar mergers have led to strong circulation growth for morning metropolitan dailies.

"The Post is a fine newspaper. But the reality is that for some years, it has been standing against an outgoing tide which has seen every other metropolitan afternoon paper in New Zealand and Australia close."

As well, there had been an increasing swing away from the Post by advertisers who realised the Dominion now had a significantly higher readership.

From a high of 99,704 in 1974, the Post’s circulation is now 54,000. The Dominion’s most recent audited circulation figure of 70,565 was an increase of 1994 on the previous audit, but down from a high of 77,268 in 1968.

A merger of the two papers would achieve a significantly higher circulation and readership than those of The Dominion or The Post, said Mr Neville. Advertisers would gain from this greater reach, achieved at a more cost-effective advertising rate.

In a new one-paper scenario, INL would ensure the publication represented the best from its two predecessors. The objective would be to merge the authority of the Dominion with the flair of the Post to create a substantial, exciting paper.

Mr Neville said the company had undertaken ongoing research on the readership of its titles and had carried out research into what readers most enjoyed from the two papers. These results would be reflected in the new title. Highly rated writers, columnists and cartoonists from both papers would be included in the mix while an expanded newsroom would have the resources to find and present more news and features in depth.

The editor-designate of the proposed new paper is Richard Long, present editor of The Dominion, reporting to managing editor-designate Tim Pankhurst, until recently, editor of the Post. The current editor of the Post, Clive Lind, would become associate editor-designate.

"This structure is designed to bring about a successful merger, where the whole emphasis will be on retaining the best of both."

Wellington Newspapers Ltd general manager Don Churchill, also a former Post editor, said losing the afternoon title would be a sad event, but merging the best into the morning market would give readers, advertisers and staff new opportunities.

"Like so many people who worked on The Post, I have real affection for it. But I am determined that its best qualities would live on in a merged title."

He said the company did not under-estimate the impact of the proposal on staff. Talks would begin immediately with those likely to be affected. The company’s management would be available for discussions with staff and unions.

All staff would be given a package of information today.

"We will be explaining the reasons behind the proposal. We will discuss with staff and unions how it is likely to affect them, and they will have an opportunity for input before the final decision is made".

Mr Churchill said readers would be kept fully informed about how the changes would affect the delivery times of their paper. The company would be in touch with retailers and distribution contractors.

Advertisers would also be contacted by the company on the proposed changes and reorganisation of bookings made where necessary.


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