Rupert Murdoch’s London-based newspapers The Times and Sunday Times have asked for government approval to share resources across both titles.
The move is currently barred under rules that were imposed when Murdoch purchased both newspapers in 1981.
Already the owner of tabloids The Sun and News of the World, Murdoch had provided a legally binding guarantee to preserve the two broadsheets’ editorial independence when he was allowed to buy them without undergoing a competition inquiry.
An application has now been made by publisher News UK to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) asking for “more flexibility to share resources across the titles, while continuing to commit to them remaining as separate newspapers with separate editors”.
The group said this would enable the two titles to contend with the continual disruption that has faced the media industry in the digital age.
Editor of The Times John Witherow said: “The persistent cost pressures facing our industry mean that we need to manage our newsrooms as carefully as possible.
“We need to stay competitive in an increasingly difficult market so that we can continue to build a sustainable future for Times journalism.”
Sunday Times editor Martin Ivens added: “The Sunday Times remains the biggest selling broadsheet in Britain and to protect our distinctive voice we need the freedom to work more closely to avoid duplication and invest more in the agenda-setting journalism we are famous for.”
The government said a proposal will now be considered by culture secretary Jeremy Wright in a quasi-judicial manner through a fair and transparent process. The DCMS has issued an invitation for comments on the proposal by 5pm on 11 February.
Ben Bird, partner and media and entertainment sector specialist at management consultancy Vendigital, told PrintWeek: “There is no doubt that The Times and Sunday Times are built around the high value of their editorial content but at a time when print advertising revenues continue to decline, pressures on cost are never far away.
“This proactive decision to merge the two historic titles will enable News UK to reduce duplicated costs behind the scenes, whilst safeguarding the high-quality content and trusted journalism that consumers really want.
“The Times also has demonstrated that it has a winning formula from a subscription perspective, so leveraging this makes good sense.”
The Times and Sunday Times employ more than 500 people between them. The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has raised concerns over potential redundancies and said it would be seeking further clarity about the details of the proposal.
“We are concerned about the News UK request to change the existing legal undertakings and the potential impact shared content will have on journalists and journalism. Cuts are likely to follow if the company are allowed to proceed,” an NUJ spokesperson said.