Evening Standard succumbs to commuting changes and goes weekly

Evening Standard succumbs to commuting changes and goes weekly

After nearly 200 years as a daily newspaper for London, the Evening Standard is shutting its daily operation and moving to a weekly print edition.

The new weekly is expected to launch later this year and the publisher is also considering retaining ES Magazine, albeit with similarly reduced frequency.

Now, the focus will shift towards the brand’s digital offering. The move is expected to impact staffing for journalists, design staff and distributors.

The Evening Standard named former GQ editor Dylan Jones as editor-in-chief in June 2023 and Bloomberg reported that he joined on the condition that the physical newspaper would not shut down.

Since joining, Jones has overseen the relaunch of its website under the brand name The Standard. He has also made various strategic appointments, including a new managing editor, head of design, fashion director, literary editor and comment editor, as well as executive editor.

Analysis: Changing post-pandemic habits

The Standard has been significantly impacted by changes to work and communting habits during and after the Covid-19 pandemic. Chairman Paul Kanareck is reported to have told staff this week that shorter commuting weeks, improved Wi-Fi along commuting routes and competition from other media channels have all weighed on the financial sustainability of the newspaper.

Other freesheet tabloids have faced similar struggles. Metro’s circulation, for example, has levelled out at around 1m, down substantially from a pre-pandemic figure of 1.42m. That title, too, had its leadership restructured in early 2023.

The Standard had been struggling financially since well before the pandemic. Russian-British businessmen Alexander (also a former KGB agent) and Evgeny Lebedev purchased the title for £1 in 2009 amid dire financial straits and turned it into a freesheet.

Since then, according to Companies House data, the Standard has found it hard to turn a consistent profit. It posted double-digit losses between 2017 and 2022 following five years of modest profitability during 2012-2016. In total, the publisher has lost £85m over the last six years.

Metro, as well as the Daily Express, are likely to benefit substantially from the decrease in competition in the freesheet tabloid market now that the Standard is moving to a weekly print edition.

Pivot to online

In October 2023, the Standard signalled a renewed interest in its digital business by relaunching its website under The Standard, accompanied by a new digital identity.

Interim managing director Rich Mead noted that the publisher’s increased investment in digital “is at the heart of our renewed commercial strategy as we seek to further leverage our iconic brand to drive audience growth and improve engagement with our readers”.

He added that Jones was delivering a “re-energised editorial vision” including business diversification through live events and exhibitions.

However, the focus on digital is fraught with its own complications. Online publishers have variously grappled with declining social traffic and the threat of declining search traffic brought on by advancements in generative AI search functions being introduced on Google.

The Standard’s sister publication, The Independent, has been operating solely online since March 2016 and has remained profitable each of the past six years. However, according to Companies House figures, operating profit fell from £5.5m in 2021 to £1.9m in 2022, the most recent filing.

The Standard will be looking to replicate The Independent’s relative success, but timing is a challenge given broader declines in the digital ad market, existing headwinds facing online publishers’ traffic as well as ongoing disputes over how journalistic content is categorised by brand-safety ad vendors.

A loss of civic journalism

Moving away from a daily edition marks a significant shift, as The Standard had published as a daily for nearly two centuries, including through significant industrial and technological change.

However, it has struggled in more recent years, with significant job cuts announced in 2019 and 2020.

In The Guardian, former Evening Standard and Times editor Simon Jenkins lamented the decline of print media and of The Standard in particular.

He pointed to how constant cuts led to a decline in quality, noting: “Nothing better illustrates the fate of London’s press than the sight of a Tube carriage crammed with mobile phones and hardly a Standard in sight.

“There is no substitute for a stable institutional critique of local democracy. The state of London’s streets, its traffic, its housing, its arts and culture are at the mercy of the internet’s cries of pain. They need civic journalism — and they have lost it.”

Media Jobs