The news that James Harding has resigned from The TImes has brought rumours that the the two newspapers The Sunday Times and The Times may be merged. To which many people have replied, ‘I thought they were the same newspaper anyway.’ But they were not. Since 1981 they have both been owned by News International, but they have kept their own identities and staff. Indeed when Rupert Murdoch purchased the papers he gave an undertaking to the government that the two papers would not be merged together.
However the two newspapers are making large losses. Savings could be made if the production could be merged – and of course even more if the journalists wrote for both papers. How many journalists would lose their jobs in the process? Numbers could be enormous. Both papers have independent histories and independent characters. If they were merged would The Times be ruined or would The Sunday Times be improved?
Either way it is hard to see the Government standing in the way of any proposed merger. The newspaper printing business is in decline and no corporation can sustain loss-making companies for long. With a streamlined production it might be possible to return both newspapers to profit. Without profit the print edition will have to be axed and the whole operation moved online. This is unlikely to happen – whether returned to profit or before News International will sell up. NewsCorp’s film and TV businesses are in better shape and would benefit from a divestiture. Maybe it is only that Murdoch was originally a newspaperman that has kept the loss making arm of the empire safe until now.
Of course the phone hacking scandal that has engulfed Fleet Street and has already seen the demise of the News of the World has played a part. Newspapers are a dying business and the taint that they have picked up is something that News International would like to get rid of.
If a merger is not allowed then we can expect these two old newspapers to continue to decline, until they are mere shadows of what they were. If the Thunderer is to thunder again then we need it to be strong and profitable. No doubt circulations will continue to decline, but with a merged paper the moment when costs become prohibitive will be put off for a while. But not for ever. Printed newspapers will never return to the position of authority that they once had, but with a sensible decision we can put off that day when The London Times is no longer available on the news-stands.