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May 2, 2024

Evening Standard editor Dylan Jones: I ‘never’ read a print paper anymore

Jones and other editors discuss the biggest challenges facing their businesses.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Dylan Jones, editor of the Evening Standard for almost a year, has revealed he “never” reads a print newspaper.

The London newsbrand is currently undergoing a transformation into a digital-first brand having struggled to recover after the Covid-19 pandemic slashed its commuter readership and advertising revenue.

Instead of reading anything in print anymore, former British GQ editor Jones said, he starts his mornings by checking the Evening Standard website and then looks at “all the apps, that I pay a lot of money for – all the nationals”.

Asked at the Society of Editors conference by panel moderator and Channel 4 News anchor Krishnan Guru-Murthy if he reads a physical paper, Jones said: “No, never.”

[Read more: Times editor Tony Gallagher: We’ve abolished meetings about the newspaper]

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In print the Evening Standard’s free distribution is down by almost two-thirds compared to the end of 2019, to 276,502.

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Jones said that in the past year the Standard has tried to make the newspaper front pages more appealing, improved the user experience of its website, and embraced its selling point as a London publication.

Evening Standard editor: We’ve made an ‘editorial pivot and structural changes’

Responding to a question about biggest challenges, he told the event on Tuesday: “For the Standard it was a long journey back from Covid, because we’d relied so much on commuter traffic, we were particularly affected. Hugely affected. So structurally, we’ve made quite a few changes.

“The first thing we did was to change the front pages because I wanted something which was far more arresting – also something which skewed a little younger and also something that could be shared on social media because the digital side of the Standard was slightly underpowered, I think, and our big news last year was we launched a new website so the UX is much better… We have added about 30% page views so it’s been tremendously successful. So structurally, there was a lot to do.

“And in terms of editorial pivot, that’s incredibly important because I think that we now spend far more time talking and discussing London than we did before and I think, obviously, there have been so many iterations of the Standard but in London we can be number one. We can be number one in the market in London, that’s very important. So the editorial pivot is as important as the structural changes we’ve made, and so far, we’ve had success.”

Asked by Guru-Murthy how sustainable the Standard’s reliance on advertising is, Jones said: “I think that in the digital world it’s much easier to work with commercial partners, and this is something that I did with huge success at Conde Nast for 20 years.

“There is less an idea of church and state – that doesn’t demean the journalism by any means, but it makes it easier to work with commercial partners and this is something which we’re in the sort of foothills of.”

Jones later said he remains a “huge optimist” about the next few years.

Liverpool Echo editor: Page view model sustainable ‘with a little bit of help’

Also appearing on the panel of editors was Liverpool Echo editor Maria Breslin, who spoke about the business model of her parent company Reach which is heavily advertising based with almost all content free to read – albeit with some recent experiments in paid-for premium content like apps and newsletters.

Breslin said: “I’m a firm believer in news primarily being free-to-all and not a nice-to-have based on the ability to pay for it because I think that’s quite dangerous to democracy and obviously in cities like Liverpool there are pockets of deprivation where that might spread disinformation if they can’t access our news. But I don’t think it doesn’t mean that we won’t experiment with paid-for models in areas where we think we can make that work, but at the moment, we are a page view model, a mass media model…”

Asked by Guru-Murthy if that model was sustainable, she said: “I believe it is with a little bit of help, yes.”

This help could come in the form of “laws with teeth”, she added, “to ensure that we’re fairly recompensed for the news that we provide for the different distribution platforms”. This is what the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, which is about to pass into law, is intended to do.

Breslin said the “biggest challenge” for her is making sure the Liverpool Echo’s journalism is seen amid changing algorithms and priorities at the big tech platforms like Google and Facebook – and explaining those changes to the audience.

She said: “So for example, only a few weeks ago I had an email saying ‘I don’t see those really good long reads I used to see on Facebook, why don’t you do them anymore?’ and it’s being able to convey the fact that we still do them but you won’t see them on Facebook because they deprioritised those. So it’s quite difficult to express that to an audience.

“And similar challenges, we’ve not fared particularly well I don’t think with the very many core updates on Google this year.”

But Breslin said there was no point in focusing on what she “can’t influence, it’s what can I influence. So I’m particularly excited about communicating with an audience on a much closer level, whether that’s using newsletters, but it’s a trusted audience, an audience that is seeking out the Liverpool Echo as opposed to finding us sort of promiscuously on a social platform. So that’s where my focus is, really. I know we have this secure, loyal audience and it’s better understanding that audience and how we can serve them.”

The panel also heard from Mail Online editor and publisher Danny Groom, who earlier this year led the launch of a partial paywall on the website to make the most of its direct, loyal audience.

Groom said “the big challenge for us, as with most digital publishers, is finding new revenue streams.

“The amount of innovation that’s happening now is fantastic, probably more than at any other time in my career… if you said to me three years ago that the Mail would be a market leader in podcasts and on Tiktok I’d think you were crazy but that’s where we are now and I think there’s a huge opportunities with that but the real challenge is not to lose sight of the core product, I think that applies to all of us.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
  • Business owner/co-owner
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  • CFO
  • CTO
  • Chairperson
  • Non-Exec Director
  • Other C-Suite
  • Managing Director
  • President/Partner
  • Senior Executive/SVP or Corporate VP or equivalent
  • Director or equivalent
  • Group or Senior Manager
  • Head of Department/Function
  • Manager
  • Non-manager
  • Retired
  • Other
Visit our privacy Policy for more information about our services, how Progressive Media Investments may use, process and share your personal data, including information on your rights in respect of your personal data and how you can unsubscribe from future marketing communications.
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