City AM has put more than a third of its editorial staff at risk of redundancy after the Government reversed its “back to the office” push as Covid-19 cases are on the rise again.
The free London business daily has been forced to postpone its plans to return to print indefinitely until its target commuter audience returns to the city in sufficient numbers.
As a result, nine out of 25 editorial roles at City AM have been put at risk, mainly in areas relating to production and distribution.
The title had until now avoided redundancies through pay cuts and by making use of the Government’s job retention scheme, but this comes to an end at the end of October. Its replacement only subsidises the wages of workers who are able to work part of their hours in so-called “viable” jobs.
The website will continue publishing, with chief executive Jens Torpe reporting a “surge” in digital revenues.
Torpe told Press Gazette: “City AM has decided not to return to print until the market conditions and levels of commuter traffic have improved. Until that time we will continue to operate as a digital media company with a strong editorial presence on our website as well as via newsletters and podcasts.
“Unfortunately, as a result of this necessary pivot to digital we are unfortunately having to make decisions about the viability of roles primarily associated with the distribution and production of a newspaper. A redundancy consultation process is therefore underway.
“We will start publishing as soon as it is feasible, but we take comfort from the surge we have seen in digital revenues and the positive response from clients, who recognise we still engage with our audience daily through Cityam.com.”
Before the pandemic hit, City AM was distributing about 85,000 copies each day.
This was scuppered after the Government changed its guidance on 22 September to say “office workers who can work effectively from home should do so over the winter” to help slow the spread of Covid-19.
In early September, Torpe had said he expected “greater numbers of readers passing through stations and more certainty in the advertising market” within a month, but this has proved slow to materialise.
According to the Daily Mail, Tube use in London last Monday morning was still at 32% of pre-Covid levels with bus usage at 55% of previous demand.
Writing on Linkedin earlier this week, City AM co-founder and managing director Lawson Muncaster blamed Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak for not doing enough “to give London the tools to get through this”.
He said the newsbrand was “lucky enough” to have its website but that “many businesses don’t have a second option”.
Sharing part of a memo sent to staff, he said the website had “kept the company going for the past six months and will continue to do so until we are back on the streets again”.