Evening Standard to cut one-third of staff as Covid-19 hits advertising

Print edition of London freesheet will remain but focus will shift to digital and mobile platforms

The Evening Standard is to sack a third of its employees, as the London freesheet seeks a dramatic reduction in costs to survive the coronavirus pandemic.

The newspaper has been hit particularly hard by the pandemic as it relies on advertising for 80% of its revenues. The Evening Standard was already struggling before advertisers pulled or froze their budgets during the crisis, running up losses of £40m over the last three years.

The move comes a week after its owner, Evgeny Lebedev, was given a peerage by Boris Johnson’s government. Lebedev, who has owned the outlet since 2009, was nominated to join the House of Lords last week after becoming a friend of the prime minister during Johnson’s tenure as mayor of London.

The newspaper intends to cut its 167 newsroom staff by 69, a reduction of 40%. The newspaper, which employs 341 people, is to cut 31 commercial jobs and 15 in distribution.

There are no plans to shut the print edition but the management plans to push into digital and mobile, as well as developing a live events business.

“The proposed restructuring comes at a challenging time for the industry, which has been accentuated by the pandemic,” said Charles Yardley, who joined the Evening Standard as chief executive from Forbes in June. “However, there remains a huge opportunity for the company, moving from London’s leading newspaper to London’s leading media platform.”

In March, the newspaper was forced to halve its distribution to just over 400,000 copies as the nationwide lockdown kept the public at home. The Evening Standard relies on commuters into and around London and has been using an emergency distribution system to get papers to people’s doors.

In April, the paper imposed a 20% pay cut on some staff and furloughed others. It also halted the publication of its weekly magazine, ES, until September.

In June, Emily Sheffield, a former reporter at the Evening Standard and the Guardian, was named as editor of the Evening Standard. Sheffield, who took over from George Osborne, who moved to the role of editor-in-chief, is the sister of former prime minister David Cameron’s wife, Samantha.

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“The Evening Standard has served London for nearly two centuries and is accustomed to evolving,” said its chairman, John Paton. “This is the next phase of the company’s evolution and as we develop new channels and services, the focus will remain on delivering quality journalism, informing and engaging our readers and with our digital offerings bringing the best of London to the world.”

Lebedev sold a 30% stake in the Evening Standard in late 2018 to a Cayman Islands company, which later turned out to be controlled by a bank with close ties to the Saudi Arabian state.

He also controls the online-only Independent, which recorded a small profit in recent years but has been hit hard by the downturn in advertising that has prompted deep job cuts across the media, including at the Guardian.


Mark Sweney and Jim Waterson

The GuardianTramp

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