Nigel Jones

The sad decline of the Evening Standard

(Photo: iStock)

It’s always a sad day for journalists when a newspaper goes to the great printing room in the sky. But for all Londoners, the death of the capital’s last surviving evening paper is particularly poignant.

The Evening Standard has announced that it is to cease publication as a daily paper – remaining alive only as a weekly edition. The news is not entirely unexpected: for years the paper has been a shadow of its former self, and was no longer an essential read for home-going commuters.

Owned since 2009 by Russian born Alexander Lebedev and his son Evgeny, who has a 63 per cent majority stake, the other 24 per cent is owned by the Daily Mail group, with a 5 per cent minority stake owned by journalist Geordie Greig and 7 per cent by Justin Byam Shaw. Announcing the end of the daily edition, the owners blamed unsustainable rising costs and declining circulation caused by the number of people working from home after the Covid pandemic.

The last editor is journalist Dylan Jones, but Lebedev’s most controversial appointment was putting former Chancellor George Osborne in the editorial chair. Osborne was appointed after his political career crashed and burned following the 2016 Brexit referendum, despite his lack of previous journalistic experience and a multiplicity of other jobs.

Osborne presided over the first signs of the Standard’s demise – the paper had been a free sheet since 2009 and there were more cuts in journalists’ jobs. It was a sad decline for a newspaper that was once ranked on a par with heavyweight national dailies like the Times and Telegraph.

The Standard began life as a national morning daily in 1827, becoming purely a London evening paper in 1904. It’s greatest days came between the world wars, after it was acquired in 1923 by the legendary Canadian born newspaper tycoon and politician Lord Beaverbrook.

Although a Conservative imperialist, who kept the paper’s Tory political line, Beaverbrook was happy to employ left-wing journalists like the future Labour leader Michael Foot, and the brilliant New Zealand cartoonist David Low. The paper’s finest hour came in May 1940 when it published Low’s famous cartoon of Churchill’s newly formed wartime coalition government titled: ‘All behind you Winston’.

For years, the Standard engaged in a circulation war with its downmarket evening rivals the Star and the Evening News. It’s particular strengths were its coverage of foreign affairs and the arts, and with the death of the Evening News in 1980 it became the city’s sole surviving evening newspaper, seeing off attempts by Bob Maxwell to launch a rival.

Print newspapers everywhere have been in steep decline since the advent of the internet, but for those who cherished the paper in its glory days – as well as the journalists and other workers who will now lose their jobs, this is dark and dismal news.