The New Statesman has a new look, rapidly expanding team and ambitions to emulate the likes of Politico (sold last month to Axel Springer for $1bn) with rapid growth and international expansion.
It’s all a far cry from the start of Jason Cowley’s editorship which began in the midst of the 2008 global financial crisis. Back then structural change in the media combined with a calamitous economic downturn to put brands like the New Statesman (and New Statesman Media Group sister title Press Gazette) in peril.
Some 13 years on Cowley is in bullish form and feels that the time is ripe for a UK-based politics and culture title with progressive values and an emphasis on quality to take on the world. He points to The Atlantic, a liberal title in the US which – like the New Statesman – struggled to find its way when it was print-only.
Today The Atlantic has 800,000 print/digital subscribers and has created successful digital spin-offs Quartz (sold to Uzabase for $75m in 2018) and CityLab (bought by Bloomberg in 2019).
Cowley says: “We did a lot with the team that we had – the project has been one of rebuilding the New Statesman, then it was a process of consolidation and now the next phase is one of expansion backed by a good investment budget.
“The launch of the new website and redesigned magazine and some of the new hires are all part of the same project really to begin to grow the New Statesman beyond its niche, that’s the ambition and the plan.
“If you look at the great liberal titles in America like The Atlantic which we admire, the way that it’s rebranded itself but also grown as a print/digital hybrid, we have similar liberal politics and worldview as the Atlantic and there is no reason why in time the New Statesman shouldn’t have the same kind of reach and influence as a title such as the Atlantic.
“We can build out from the UK into other regions. Already a third of our readership is in North America.”
The new “visual identity” for the New Statesman was created with the help of designer Mark Porter which sees “The” return to the logo and new classic-looking fonts (Canela – serif and Reg. Modern -sans serif). Cowley says the look aims to be “contemporary but also inspired by the history of the title”.
Under the hood the Statesman has a rapidly expanding editorial team which will stand at 47 when all the new hires are in place.
Expanding editorial team
Since 2019 it has recruited Berlin-based international editor Jeremy Cliffe from The Economist, international correspondent Ido Vock and Washington-based US editor Emily Tamkin.
The foreign team is now being bolstered by the arrival of Alix Kroeger from the BBC and Megan Gibson from Monocle.
Former head of politics at Bloomberg Tim Ross is another new hire, brought in to provide more breaking news. Pravina Rudra is joining from the Telegraph to launch a reactive comment section and Philippa Nuttall joins from Energy Monitor to lead up the title’s coverage of energy and climate change.
The Statesman now has its own audio-visual team led by Chris Stone, formerly of the Evening Standard. And Cowley is particularly pleased to have recruited US academic Adam Tooze, author of Crashed and Shutdown, as a contributing writer.
He says: “For the first time I feel a bit like a football manager who now has a transfer budget, I can actually start to bring in some big hitters and more experience and I’m delighted to be able to do that. My mission before then was to discover young talent and nurture it.”
Cowley’s record for talent-spotting includes recruiting Helen Lewis (now at The Atlantic), Mehdi Hasan (now with MSNBC in the US) and political editor Stephen Bush.
While the Statesman lost revenue from events and advertising in pandemic-hit 2020, it made strong gains in reader revenue – with paid-for website subscriptions up 77% last year and print subs by 8%.
It now has some 300,000 registered digital readers after launching a metered paywall at the end of 2018 and Cowley has ambitions to grow digital subscribers to 50,000 “fairly quickly” and then beyond to 100,000. It’s an ambitious target and would make it one of just a handful of UK-born news publications to pass the 100,000 threshold on digital subscribers.
The New Statesman’s paid-for ABC circulation stood at 32,000 in 2020, and 37,000 with free copies included (compared with 23,000 in 2008) – and Cowley says that paid-for circulation is now up to 36,000, a 40-year-high, and that the headline figure has passed 40,000.
The Statesman’s future revenue growth is expected to be driven by a mixture of paid subscriptions and high-value commercial partnerships of the type brokered with IT services company Hexaware for the relaunch.
There are no programmatic ads on the new site meaning it is free of the intrusive pop-ups and take-overs which dominate many free-to-air news websites.
Instead, New Statesman will be using in-house Lead Monitor technology to deliver more tailored messages to readers from advertisers.
This builds on the success of the Statesman’s Spotlight sponsored-content section which produces policy-related print supplements and web content.
Cowley says of the website relaunch: “It’s all about the quality of the reading experience and that means the site becomes a much more attractive platform for high-end partnerships.
“It’s not about absolute numbers and selling programmatic against it, it’s about having an engaged readership around particular areas of expertise like climate and environment.”
Cowley says the New Statesman is not interested in producing culture wars “clickbait”: “We’re not chasing those numbers, we want to attract an engaged readership rather than transient hits.”
Under Cowley the NS, which was founded by members of the left-wing Fabian Society, has moved away from its former close association with the Labour Party – even going as far as to refrain from endorsing Labour in the 2019 general election in a leader which was damning in its criticism of the party.
Asked what the Statesman’s reason for being is today, Cowley says: “I honour its founding mission as a weekly review of politics and literature, but what I think we can do now is push out beyond our niche as a magazine of the British left. We want to write seriously about the Conservative government as well as the Labour Party, we want to write about the Scottish national government, the German Government, the French Government, as well as the defining issues of our times: climate change, tech, the big scientific issues, the big political forces driving change.
“Our USP is both our politics, our liberal sensibility and the quality of our writing and analysis. We’re also sceptical and unpredictable in our politics.
“Today we have a bigger range of voices than we have ever had. We have writers from left and right. But always we have this sceptical liberal sensibility and I think that’s been our strength in recent years.”
Conservative politicians Ruth Davidson and David Gauke are recent additions to the writing team supplementing existing left-wing voices such as Paul Mason, who has a weekly online column
“We haven’t become factionalised like some other publications, we’ve been able to negotiate the culture wars without becoming belligerents in the culture wars like some other publications and we’ve been true to our liberal ethos. That’s our niche.
“If you more generally look at the British media it’s dominated by the big right-wing groups. On the left there are the smaller energetic gonzo publications and then there’s The Guardian. But we are a different publication from The Guardian. We are not a newspaper for a start. We see ourselves occupying a space somewhere between titles like The Atlantic and The Economist, both in our range, quality and our ambitions.”
New products launched by the Statesman in recent years include a range of newsletters and podcasts. More podcasts are planned and possibly even New Statesman radio.
Cowley says the infrastructure is now in place at parent company New Statesman Media Group to bring the title’s journalism to a new audience like never before.
“It’s a really exciting time, not least because the company is committed to quality and investment. There’s no pressure to dumb down.
“The people who are joining us are leaving big organisations to come to the New Statesman because they also believe in its potential.
“There’s no interference from the top, there’s no one telling us what to write or what to say or what to publish, and I relish that freedom and responsibility. My colleagues appreciate that too and we have are a very good and motivated team. “
New Statesman fact file
- Website: 2.6m unique monthly visitors
- Current paid-for circulation: 36,000
- Newsletter subscribers (Morning Call, NS Daily, World Review, This Week In Business, The Culture Edit, Weekly Highlights, From the Archive): 250,000
- Podcast downloads: 300,000 per month
- Registered website users: 300,000
- New Statesman Media Group brands: New Statesman, Press Gazette, Capital Monitor, Tech Monitor, World of Fine Wine, Elite Traveller, Spears Wealth Management.
- Founded: 1913
- Ownership: Part of New Statesman Media Group limited, proprietor Mike Danson. Danson bought the Statesman from Labour MP Geoffrey Robinson in 2009.