Independent Newspapers Ltd said today it was merging its two Wellington dailies -- The Dominion and The Evening Post.

The company said there were likely to be 80-90 job losses, two thirds amongst editorial staff, when the new morning paper, The Dominion Post, begins next month.

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, adding that Wellington Newspapers had suffered from an advertising downturn which meant resources were stretched to sustain two separate publications.

Mr Mockridge said the downturn in Wellington advertising had coincided with a steady decline in The Post's circulation and a recent increase in the price of newsprint.

INL, 44 owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd, said it 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.

He said the company needed to implement the change in a reasonably short time frame to minimise uncertainty for readers, advertisers and staff and to 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."

The new paper will be titled The Dominion Post.

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.

Wellington Newspapers currently employs 490 including 30 part-timers. The editorial department of The Dominion Post would comprise people from both newspapers. He said INL would discharge all 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, he said.

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."

He said international experience showed that similar mergers had 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."

He said there had been an increasing swing away from the Post by advertisers who realised the Dominion had a significantly higher readership.

From a high of 99,704 in 1974, the Post's circulation had declined to 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.

Mr Neville said advertisers would gain from a greater reach, achieved at a more cost-effective advertising rate.

He said the objective would be to merge "the authority of the Dominion with the flair of the Post to create a substantial, exciting paper".

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, he said.

The editor-designate of the proposed new paper is Dominion editor Richard Long, who will report to managing editor-designate Tim Pankhurst, until recently, editor of the Post.

Post editor of the Post, Clive Lind, would become associate editor-designate.

- NZPA