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June 4, 2019updated 30 Sep 2022 7:52am

Evening Standard theatre critics axed in ‘necessary cost-cutting’ at title

By Charlotte Tobitt

The Evening Standard will lose two of its theatre critics in editorial job cuts falling as part of plans to merge its print and online teams.

Henry Hitchings and Fiona Mountford both announced on Twitter this afternoon that they will be leaving the newspaper as part of “necessary cost-cutting”. Each has written for the title for more than ten years.

Editor George Osborne told staff at the end of May that the Standard would create “single-structure editorial departments” to avoid “unnecessary duplication”, before confirming this would result in redundancies.

A consultation with staff began on 3 May, and it is understood that some affected journalists were handed their notice today.

It has been reported that up to 20 jobs could be affected, but Standard owner ESI Media would not comment while the consultation period is ongoing.

An ESI Media spokesperson told Press Gazette: “As we confirmed last month, we are reviewing the Evening Standard editorial teams and processes, working with managers to agree on the most efficient structure going forward.

“As the consultation process is still live, we can’t discuss specifics relating to individuals, but as part of this process, we can confirm that we will be bringing more of our arts criticism in house.

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“The arts department remains a key part of the Evening Standard’s editorial agenda and we will be announcing a new critics line up in due course.”

In his farewell message, Hitchings tweeted: “It’s been a pleasure to have this opportunity, and I’m certainly not about to stop going to the theatre.”

Hitchings, who was on a non-staff contract, said his reviews will continue to run in the paper for about one month after being given notice today.

Speaking to Press Gazette, the critic said: “Regardless of what anyone thinks of me as a person or as a critic it’s always a bit worrying if you work in the theatre to see critics getting the axe, because you think what sort of coverage are we going to get in the future?”

He suggested a cheaper way for the paper to run theatre reviews may be by using staff journalists to write them.

Hitchings said he believes the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, for which he was on the panel, will continue to run as normal. This has since been confirmed by ESI Media.

Mountford tweeted earlier that she had been at the Standard for 17 “happy” years, adding: “It’s been a blast.”

The Standard reported an operating loss of £10m for the year ending September 2017, down from £2.2m in 2016.

The Evening Standard distributes just under 900,000 free copies every weekday throughout Greater London, relying on print advertising and sponsored content as its primary source of revenue.

It made a turnover of £64m in 2017 and a pre-tax loss of £11.7m, according to the latest available company accounts.

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