Will the all-new Evening Standard halt its decline?

EveningStandard2009Like many Londoners – or at least near-Londoners – I picked up a gratis copy of the Evening Standard (now rebranded the London Evening Standard) out of curiosity about how it could reinvent itself as a viable paid-for paper in a world where people [a] get their news for free, and up to date, from TV, radio and the web and [b] only really want to entertained for half an hour on the commute home. 

The Evening Standard is enjoying some publicity over its “Sorry” campaign (the former editor hates it) and its promise to bring readers more “good news” (likewise). 

Will this work? Despite ex-editor Veronica Wadley criticising the new editorial policy as resembling that of Soviet era Pravda, the Standard may be on to something. 

The new editor, Geordie Greig, used to edit the Tatler, so that says something about his priorities – he likes the social scene, apparently, though he’s a bit of an intellectual. And he’s hung out with gangsters. Which is nice. 

One clue about the Standard‘s new direction could be the big splash given to a piece by Tom Wolfe satirising financial excess. It reads well, and is in a different league to the usual free evening paper trivia. 

The acid test will be whether Londoners are really hungry for a more upscale and substantial entertainment vehicle than they’ve already got – and whether they’ll make the effort to seek it out and pay for it. Both The London Paper and London Lite are pretty thin, but you have to work hard not to pick one up in the capital. 

Crucially, Greig was quoted in a Guardian profile as not really being in tune with celeb culture:

“I don’t think I’d be very good at Heat, though. It wouldn’t excite me. You have to get a buzz, or it doesn’t work. But, you know, fantastic candyfloss.”

If it’s that kind of candyfloss that London commuters really want on the tube home, the Standard may be in trouble. But if it has at least learned the lesson that commuters prefer entertainment to run-of-the-mill news, that’s something. 

So is there no room for news in, well, a newspaper? 

Not if it’s just the same old rehashed stories you’ve seen or heard ever since the Today programme (or any radio news bulletin) at 7am. And I’m not sure I want to read serious in-depth analysis while I’m strap-hanging on the underground. 

The one thing it might do is report real London news. Not the national government agenda – though obviously the UK government is in London. But local capital news that you don’t get to see otherwise. 

But that’s tough to do. It requires resources, for one thing, which is something the print media is finding it can’t afford right now. And when it comes to real-time reporting, digital media are much better placed to handle breaking news or events.

When I wanted to follow the London Mayoral election last year, for example, I was out of town, and without a TV. The BBC web site, exemplary though it is in many respects, didn’t seem to have live, or even frequent, coverage. But there was a microblog reporting the latest developments from the count – a triumph of new media over old.

The website? Almost unbelievably, it was www.thelondonpaper.com. Yes, a Twitter-style feed from the trashy London freebie was the only source of up-to-the-minute political reporting I could find that night. 

Lessons for the Evening Standard? You might as well try something truly different – the same old, same old really isn’t going to work anymore.

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