Media group Daily Mail & General Trust yesterday said it was willing to sell one of Britain's largest regional newspaper publishers if the price was right.
The surprise decision to consider a disposal of Northcliffe was combined with a warning by DMGT that there was no recovery in sight for its newspaper advertising markets.
Northcliffe operates from 37 publishing centres and produces 20 daily titles that have a combined sale of almost one million copies. Among its best known Midlands titles are the Derby Evening Telegraph, Nottingham Evening Post, Leicester Mercury, Stoke Sentinel and weeklies, the Tamworth Herald, Sutton Observer and Walsall Advertiser.
Nationally, other major operations are the Aberdeen Press and Journal, Western Daily Press and Western Morning News.
Northcliffe has a total of 27 paid-for weeklies that sell almost half a million copies a week and 62 free titles with a distribution of 2.5 million.
Chairman Viscount Rothermere said shareholders would receive a "substantial portion" of the net proceeds of any sale, but the group may opt instead to restructure the business further.
He said: "There remains considerable potential to improve the performance of Northcliffe and any sale will only take place if substantially more value can be achieved for shareholders."
It is believed to have had an approach from a venture capitalist.
Shares in DMGT closed up 11 per cent at 750.5p on the news, that accompanied an eight per cent increase in pretax profits to £253.4 million during the year to October 2. Revenues for the period were £2.1 billion, one per cent higher.
Scotching speculation that DMGT may also seek to offload its Associated Newspapers division, which includes the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday, Viscount Rothermere said these titles remained "at the heart" of the company.
"The group remains fully committed to the continued growth and development of Associated Newspapers," he said.
Northcliffe achieved operating profits of £102 million over the past financial year - up 1.5 per cent on 12 months earlier despite revenues remaining unchanged at £520 million and without the support of an extra trading week.
The slowdown in the economy and lower public sector spending affected its advertising revenues, which declined in the second half of the financial year after an encouraging start.
But the group said it now forecast to make at least £30 million of annual savings from a restructuring that has included plans to close presses at Exeter, Hull, Grimsby and Lincoln.
That is £10 million more than DMGT expected when it launched its Aim Higher programme in June.
Operating profits at Associated Newspapers hit an all-time high of £95.1 million, up £4.8 million over the past year.
This was in spite of higher newsprint prices and advertising revenues at the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday falling 3.4 per cent and two per cent respectively.
The Evening Standard saw advertising revenues tumble 7.1 per cent on the back of less demand for recruitment space, but this was cushioned by a 12 per cent rise in circulation during the six months to the end of September.
Viscount Rothermere said the new financial year had begun in a similar fashion to how the previous one ended.
"The advertising markets experienced by the group's UK newspaper businesses show no sign of recovery yet," he said.
"Our national newspapers have continued to increase their market shares, despite fierce competitive circulation activity within the national market."
Cost-cutting in newspapers and at Teletext had helped to protect their profits and both businesses were well-placed to take advantage of a pick-up in consumer advertising, although Viscount Rothermere said "the trend in newsprint prices is a concern".