London Evening Standard cuts jobs in drive to reduce costs

Newspaper’s editor, George Osborne, announces plan to merge print and online teams

George Osborne has announced a round of job cuts at the Evening Standard, as the London newspaper prepares to merge its print and online teams to reduce costs.

The former Conservative chancellor became the newspaper’s editor in 2017 and stepped down from parliament soon after. In an email to staff he said the outlet was “facing a tough economic market with rising costs” and that the separate online and print teams would be merged to “ensure the Standard evolves to be profitable and keeps pace with our fast-changing society”.

He said the newspaper “has never been more influential and its audience has never been bigger”. He invited staff to take part in the process of working out how to merge the separate desks but said job cuts were inevitable. Staff will be told whether they are at risk by the end of May, with employees invited to apply for voluntary redundancy.

The Standard, which distributes 860,000 free copies a day around the capital, has been hit hard by the collapse of the print advertising market, on which it is almost entirely reliant for its income. It lost £10m last year, with the possibility this could rise unless it finds alternative sources of income.

Merging the online and offline teams could result in a culture clash, with the website often covering stories about celebrities that drive online traffic rather than the more London-centric material found in the print edition.

One guide from last year for its online reporters, seen by the Guardian, said local news stories “must be of interest to a wider audience” in an effort to attract more global visitors. Reporters were urged to avoid covering council or crime stories that only affected one London borough and to only write them if they could appeal to readers around the world.

Guidelines for reporters working on the Evening Standard’s website in 2018
Guidelines for reporters working on the Evening Standard’s website from 2018. Photograph: Evening Standard

Royal stories should focus on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, or feature the Duchess of Cambridge “if she is wearing or doing anything unusual like getting her heels stuck in a drain”. Brexit stories should focus on “big issues” and “not the details of the latest negotiations”, while reporters were told to write more “D’oh! What’s he done now stories” about Donald Trump.

The cuts will once again focus attention on the media activities of the Standard’s Russian owner, Evgeny Lebedev, who bought the newspaper for £1 a decade ago. The oligarch’s son recently sold a third of the business to a little-known Saudi Arabian investor via an offshore holding company.

Lebedev has also been seeking to offload the lossmaking London Live television station. He continues to own the profitable online-only Independent, having closed the print edition and sold the cut-price and successful i newspaper to Johnston Press.

Osborne used his recent Hugh Cudlipp memorial lecture to say news outlets that relied on “begging for contributions” were not sustainable and that outlets should be profit-making: “If you want quality journalism, someone has to pay for it,” he said. “Newspapers are businesses not charities.”

He also said he had not met the Standard’s Saudi investors and highlighted the newspaper’s criticism of the Saudi regime. “What matters for me as the editor is the editorial independence of the paper and the resources I have to be able to provide high-quality journalism to our readers,” he said. “The days when British newspapers were owned by British people living in Britain disappeared 50 years ago. It is a reality that newspaper ownership is very diverse in this country.”


Jim Waterson Media editor

The GuardianTramp

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