Could the "Evening Standard" close? And is the internet finally hitting newspapers?by Simon Jenkins / March 17, 2005 / Leave a comment
When Sherlock Holmes needed to put an advertisement in a London evening paper, he could not decide which. He told his assistant (in “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle”) to try “the Globe, Star, Pall Mall, St James’s, Evening News, Standard, Echo and any others that occur to you.” At that time (1892) the list ran to 14.
London now has one evening newspaper left—or has it? For the past two months, the monopoly supplier of London evening news, Associated Newspapers, has seemed to lose its corporate head. Its Evening Standard (price 40p) has for nearly five years been battered by a rival, Metro, also owned by Associated and distributed free on the tube. Then in December a second free paper arrived, also from Associated. Called Standard Lite, it is produced by the Standard’s own staff and given away free from central London newsstands at lunchtime, alongside the early paid-for edition of the Standard itself. Readers are offered news and gossip for nothing or that plus features, columns and arts for 40p.
The Lite’s 50,000 copies disappear instantly. The impact on the sale of the Standard proper is as yet a secret, but since its circulation has already fallen almost 10 per cent in a year, it can hardly be benign. What is happening? Will the old Evening Standard, as pessimists declare, be gone by the year’s end? Is someone trying to murder a great London institution, someone from within? A case for Sherlock Holmes indeed.
Most British papers are enduring their most troubled times since the late 1980s and the demise of the print unions. The Telegraph titles are threatened with a strike of journalists. They face a cut of 90 of their staff from their new owners, the Barclay brothers. The Independent journalists are also balloting on strike action. Staff cuts were recently made at the Mirror and Times. The Financial Times’s British edition has lost 8.7 per cent of its sales over a year, and is frantically struggling to reposition itself, possibly abandoning its British character altogether in favour of “the world.” Even the BBC is demanding 15 per cent cuts in staffing. Conventional journalism is sorely threatened. Is the Evening Standard to be the first sacrifice on the great altar so clearly marked: internet?
My attitude to the Standard is a mix of addiction and nostalgia. I joined the paper when little more than a…