City AM has set a date for its return to print, 18 months after going digital-only to ride out the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The free business daily will return to the streets and offices of London on Monday 20 September, staff were told on Thursday.
It had been waiting for commuter footfall levels to increase, while also watching the Covid-19 statistics, and chief executive Jens Torpe told Press Gazette “now is the right time to come back”.
He said he was “optimistic” considering London Underground usage continued to increase during August despite the fact it is traditionally a quiet month due to the summer holidays. Weekday Tube use in August ranged between 44% and 54% of the equivalent days in 2019, according to Government figures.
“A year ago we thought it was time to launch but had to cancel which was a good decision since we were forced into lockdown from November onwards, but this time we are optimistic,” Torpe said. “We think we have seen the worst of it.”
Torpe said the aim is for print distribution to have returned to pre-pandemic levels of around 85,000 copies per day within a month of going live.
To compensate for the fact commuter numbers are likely to stay below pre-pandemic levels as many companies are keeping flexible working, there will be at least 100 more distribution points further out in the commuter belt and a new agreement with all WeWork’s London locations, as well as distribution in some offices as before.
After nine editorial redundancies were made last year, the aim is also to return to staffing levels roughly the same as March 2020 although with some refocus onto online.
City AM has grown its digital presence during the pandemic, topping 3m monthly unique visitors for the first time in February this year.
Torpe said: “We have seen that huge growth in digital and obviously we want to continue that – maybe it’s time to make some organisational changes there so we both have a very good newspaper and keep the momentum of the website.”
About 30 to 35 new roles have been created in recent weeks including about ten to 12 new positions in editorial, which is back to a team of almost 30.
This summer the newspaper has been hiring for roles including night editor, deputy night editor, picture editor and reporter.
The paper’s final print edition (pictured) was on 20 March, three days before Prime Minister Boris Johnson announced the UK would be going into lockdown. Commuter footfall had already decreased as people heeded warnings to stay at home wherever possible.
The City AM digital newspaper edition continued briefly but was stopped almost two weeks after the final print edition as it required almost the same amount of work to produce.
Since then, the newspaper has made use of the government’s job retention scheme and postponed its return to print twice, in September and also October last year, when it made nine of its 25 editorial staff redundant.
Christian May left his role as editor in November after five years. He was replaced by deputy editor and former Sun PR man and leader writer Andy Silvester.
Managing director Lawson Muncaster, who co-founded City AM in 2006, described the print return as the “most important announcement in our history”.
He said he was “excited, nervous but fully committed”.
“We have seen in our short history the financial meltdown, Brexit and Covid. We have had to dig deep, but testament to our outstanding family, we are ready,” he said.
Chief operating officer Harry Owen wrote on Linkedin: “It’s not every day you get to launch a daily newspaper into the UK print market – let alone the same one twice.”
Owen added: “The entire City AM team has been exceptional for the last 18 months, both editorial and commercial – the best collaboration I’ve seen in 20 years – and not least a massive thanks to our commercial partners that we are bringing City AM back. They know who they are.”