Emily Sheffield has left her role as editor of the Evening Standard after just 15 months in the job as the management at the London newspaper try to map out a financial future for the loss-making outlet.
Staff were told on Thursday morning that Sheffield, who had been absent for the last week, would be departing with immediate effect by “mutual consent”. Multiple sources at the news outlet said her time on the newspaper had been an unhappy one, with deep job cuts and financial pressures caused by the Covid pandemic exacerbated by a struggling digital strategy.
One Evening Standard employee said that while Sheffield had tried to relaunch in difficult circumstances, the newspaper increasingly struggled to grasp what stories Londoners wanted to read.
In an email to staff, Sheffield thanked employees for their support during this “incredibly challenging period of history” and said she would continue to write a column for the newspaper.
Sheffield, the sister-in-law of the former prime minister David Cameron, replaced the former Conservative chancellor George Osborne as editor of the Evening Standard last summer. Multiple Evening Standard staff expressed hope that the next editor would not be someone from the same social background.
The Evening Standard is controlled by Evgeny Lebedev, who was recently given a life peerage by the prime minister, Boris Johnson, and also owns the Independent. It is unclear whether Lebedev can continue to sustain substantial losses at the Standard, although several years ago he sold a 30% stake in the outlet to offshore companies believed to be ultimately part-owned by a bank with close links to the Saudi Arabian government.
Although the Standard is a regional paper, its large print distribution and proximity to power means many politicians in Westminster treat it as a national outlet. Publisher at the Standard, Charlotte Ross, takes over as acting editor with immediate effect.
The Standard’s business model, which relies on distributing hundreds of thousands of free copies aimed at London commuters and then charging for advertising, was under threat before the pandemic. It has lost £40m in three years, with revenues plummeting further when Covid-19 caused most of its core readership to stay at home.
In response, the newspaper’s delivery team began putting copies of the newspaper through domestic letterboxesand dropping copies further out into the suburbs. However, the size of its print edition has halved to as small as 28 pages on some days, amid a lack of advertising.
Shortly after Sheffield took the job last summer, the outlet’s management introduced big cuts that led to about 40% of its journalists being sacked.
The much-vaunted digital-first relaunch has struggled to substantially turn around the fortunes of its website, which is described by employees as traffic-driven and focusing on global celebrity stories as much as local London news.