Presses start rolling as weekly newspapers prepare to publish again

The presses will start rolling again from this week at a number of weekly newspapers in Northern Ireland which had been suspended during the coronavirus pandemic
Gary McDonald Business Editor

THE Mourne Observer will be available again in newsagents' shops this morning, heralding a return to the shelves of a number of weekly newspapers which were temporarily shut during the coronavirus pandemic.

It's sister titles the Bangor Spectator and Newtownards Chronicle will then be published on Thursday, and in the coming weeks other long-established titles like the Newry Reporter and Banbridge Chronicle will also be back on sale.

The move is seen as another sign of a general return to normality, with separate figures revealing that driving activity in the north has risen by 10 per cent in the last week alone as more people are becoming mobile, despite the lockdown restrictions.

Spectator Group general manager Neil Evans said the company was thrilled to be getting its titles printed again after an eight-week absence.

"Of all the newspapers across the UK which suspended publication in late March or early April, I believe we are the first to return," he said.

"It's a tribute to every department that we are able to get our three papers back on the streets.

"Some of our employees remain furloughed, but despite the skeleton staff, our papers will be close to normal pagination, and this week we are donating 10p for ever paper purchased to a worthy community cause, because weekly newspapers still remain part of the fabric of every local community."

Staff at the Newry Reporter (first published in 1867) plan to bring out a paper next week, with sister title The Banbridge Chronicle, which later this year celebrates its 150th anniversary, likely to publish again from June 17.

Work is ongoing at both offices to instal protective screens and implement other social distancing measures for members of the public calling to place notices, though the staff will for the most part work remotely.

Although some local and regional newspaper publishers found it economically unsustainable to go on producing papers during the crisis, others kept their presses rolling.

They include the Morton Newspapers group, whose titles include The Portadown Times, Mid-Ulster Mail and Ulster Star, and the Dungannon-headquartered Alpha Media Group, whose stable includes the Tyrone Courier, Ballymena Guardian, Northern Constitution, Ulster Gazette and Strabane Weekly News.

Many newspapers have endeavoured to use the crisis to accelerate a shift in consumption to the digital sphere and to woo readers into the habit of paying for journalism online, while other titles have drastically ramped up home delivery services.

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