Three of southern New Jersey’s oldest local papers are merging into a single edition as of November, South Jersey Media officials told the Gloucester County Times.
The Gloucester County Times, Today’s Sunbeam and The News of Cumberland County, with 441 years of publishing between them, will all cease to exist as individual entities in the merge, which will create a new South Jersey Times that will split its coverage into northern and southern editions, and newspaper officials touted it as a move to strengthen the company.
"It's a great opportunity to take the best of all three papers and provide an even better local news and advertising source to the entire region," general manager Joseph P. Owens told his staff Thursday.
The new combined paper will have a circulation of slightly less than 30,000, according to figures published by the Audit Bureau of Circulation (ABC), down significantly from four yeas ago. In 2008, the ABC certified the three merging papers had a circulation of nearly 40,000, putting the drop around 25 percent.
A fourth publication, the Washington Township Times, a free weekly paper distributed in Washington Township, will continue to be produced as a separate edition under the merger, officials said.
Reaction to the merger on the three papers’ Facebook pages was mixed, with some readers applauding the move, while others raised concerns about how it would affect coverage.
“I hate the way the paper is now,” Ben Mahala posted on Today’s Sunbeam’s page. “I really don't care what happens in Vineland and Bridgeton let alone what’s going to be happening in Gloucester.”
The merger is one of a number of major moves at the South Jersey chain this year. After former publisher Frank Gargano announced his retirement in February, Owens was brought down from his former post at the Express-Times in Easton, PA, to become general manager.
More recently, West Deptford resident John Barna stepped down as editor of the Gloucester County Times after more than three decades in the business. A successor has yet to be named, and the Times has advertised a new position—a vice president of content—in place of that editorship.
The South Jersey Times, which is owned by Advance Publications, will continue its relationship with Advance-owned NJ.com, delivering news from Gloucester, Salem, Cumberland, Cape May, Atlantic, Burlington and Camden counties. NJ.com itself has been going through changes this year, launching a redesigned website similar to other Advance sites in Detroit and New Orleans—though the New Orleans site has already seen changes and a relaunch after complaints from readership.
The three papers’ offices are all being put up for sale as part of the merger, and The News of Cumberland County’s staff has already been pulled out of Bridgeton. Officials said they’ll consolidate into one location, though they didn’t specify where that would be.
No layoffs were immediately announced with the merger.