Emily Sheffield is stepping down as Evening Standard editor “by mutual agreement” after 15 months at the title, during which time it has weathered an existential crisis brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Sheffield took over as editor from former chancellor of the exchequer George Osborne in July 2020 at a lull in the Covid-19 pandemic that was to prove short-lived for the UK and was followed by further lockdown restrictions forcing people to stay at home.
The paper had been reliant on handing out free copies on London’s streets and at transport hubs, carrying advertising to reach the commuter market, but lockdowns and social distancing measures put an end to this.
Sheffield (pictured) described it as an “incredibly challenging period of history”.
A return to pre-pandemic commuting levels has been slow, despite the lifting of restrictions in July, and a shift in working culture towards greater home working and flexibility means it may never fully come back.
The paper was forced to cut its circulation from 800,000 to about 500,000 during the pandemic months – and move towards a home distribution model – but it will not put these copies back on, chief executive Charles Yardley told Press Gazette in April.
Sheffield and Yardley oversaw a 40% cut to newsroom staff, totalling 115 jobs, of which 69 were editorial, in 2020 while transforming the previously print-led title into a digital-first operation.
The physical paper continues to publish, but has been as low as 24 pages this month (4 October), and carries roughly half the pagination of pre-pandemic copies, falling from around 60 to around 30 pages.
Even before the pandemic, the Evening Standard was in financial difficulty. It made pre-tax losses of more than £10m in both 2017 and 2018. In 2019 it made a pre-tax loss of £13.6m on turnover of £64m.
In 2020, its pre-tax losses grew to £17.1m on turnover of £44m, down nearly a third year-on-year.
Sheffield, whose sister Samantha is married to ex-prime minister David Cameron, previously worked as deputy editor of Vogue UK. She spent five years at the Standard while in her 20s, under editor Max Hastings, returning to the paper as a columnist in 2017, a role she will continue.
She said: “Immense steps have been taken going digital first and I am excited for the Standard’s future and all we have achieved. I look forward to writing a column again.”
Former Standard deputy editor, now publisher, Charlotte Ross has been appointed acting editor.
Picture: Evening Standard