'A punch in the stomach' – the Russian coup at the Standard

Staff had to read all about it elsewhere. Matthew Bell on the sale of London's last evening title

Once London had 14 paid-for evening newspapers. This weekend the future of the last survivor hangs in the balance as negotiations continue between Lord Rothermere and Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev over the sale of the Evening Standard. Reports of the deal emerged on Wednesday night, infuriating senior executives at Daily Mail and General Trust, the current owner of the Standard, and temporarily stalling talks. But negotiations had resumed before the weekend and an announcement is expected tomorrow that Lebedev, a former KGB agent, will pay £1 for a share of just over 75 per cent of the title.

The sale of that controlling stake is believed to be mutually beneficial. It will allow Lebedev to force through decisions on, say, how to structure the debt he will be taking on, while DMGT will retain some say in the future of the title but, in owning less than 25 per cent, it can remove the title from the group balance sheet.

The newspaper industry is entering one of the toughest years in its history and the Standard already runs at an operating loss of around £25m a year. Until recently, Lord Rothermere had been keen to hold on to the paper, having worked as its managing director before inheriting its parent company in 1998. But insiders say that has now changed. "There's a sense his enthusiasm for the Standard has waned in the past few months," says a source. "Now he just wants to get shot of it."

The sale came as a shock to most staff. Members of the backbench – the core of a newsroom, where senior editors sit – swarmed round TVs as the news broke. This was the first confirmation that a deal was imminent. "It felt like being punched in the stomach," says one insider.

The question underlying the sale is whether the model of the Standard – an upmarket, twice-daily, paid-for evening paper with extensive City, arts and sports coverage – is still workable. David Wynne-Morgan, a media analyst, thinks not. "I don't think there is a commercial future for the paper. Veronica Wadley has done an outstanding job as editor; if it's as good as it is and it still isn't working then I can't see it ever making money."

Don Berry, a former associate editor of the Standard, is more hopeful: "There are so many highly educated and highly paid people commuting across London, but only 150,000 copies are sold every day. You would have thought there was a market for a serious, cultured and well-informed publication of some sort. You can charge a lot of money for advertising if you have the right readers. Taking it really upmarket is the only thing that hasn't been tried – I can't think of anything else."

A deal has yet to be signed and there remains much to be worked out. The Standard is well integrated into the slick operation of Associated Newspapers, and extricating it throws up hard questions. The obligations of the pension scheme will be one; the future of the free paper London Lite, which depends on the Standard for much of its content, is another. A closer association with sister operations Metro and Mail Online now seems likely.

How the story of the sale emerged is itself worthy of attention. "The suspicion is the story did not come out by accident," says a Standard insider. Lebedev is a friend of PR guru Matthew Freud, who is married to Rupert Murdoch's daughter, Elisabeth. But it was the Media Guardian that broke the story after a tip-off from someone close to the deal. In its excitement, there was someconfusion on Media Guardian, with Roy Greenslade, the website's chief commentator, saying "we know little about Lebedev". He later retracted that, conceding that of all the Russians in London, Lebedev is one of the better known.

One detail of the story makes absolute sense – that Tatler editor Geordie Greig is to take on a senior role at the Standard as either editor or editor-in-chief. Greig is a close friend of Lebedev, with whom he sits on the board of the Raisa Gorbachev Foundation, a charity in memory of Mikhail Gorbachev's wife.

But Nicholas Coleridge, chairman of Condé Nast, publisher of Tatler, remained tight lipped: "It is early days, considering the Standard hasn't been sold and Geordie hasn't been offered the job let alone resigned from us."

Whatever happens, it is heartening to hear Lebedev say he sees the Standard as "a good way to waste money". A pursuit of profit rarely sits comfortably with good journalism. "This is going to be something that gives him influence," says Wynne-Morgan.

For some staff at the Standard, the arrival of Lebedev and his cheque book is a ray of hope. "If you accept the Mail has now decided to get rid of us," says an insider, "it's fantastic we've got a buyer. The other option we faced was closure, and nobody wanted that."

News
people
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Sport
A long jumper competes in the 80-to-84-year-old age division at the 2007 World Masters Championships
athletics
Sport
FootballGerman sparks three goals in four minutes at favourite No 10 role
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvHe is only remaining member of original cast
Sport
Lewis Hamilton will start the Singapore Grand Prix from pole, with Nico Rosberg second and Daniel Ricciardo third
F1... for floodlit Singapore Grand Prix
Life and Style
Walking tall: unlike some, Donatella Versace showed a strong and vibrant collection
fashionAlexander Fury on the staid Italian clothing industry
Arts and Entertainment
Gregory Porter learnt about his father’s voice at his funeral
music
Arts and Entertainment
tvHighs and lows of the cast's careers since 2004
Life and Style
Children at the Leytonstone branch of the Homeless Children's Aid and Adoption Society tuck into their harvest festival gifts, in October 1936
food + drinkThe harvest festival is back, but forget cans of tuna and packets of instant mash
New Articles
i100... she's just started school
News
news
New Articles
i100
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
life
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
New Articles
i100... despite rising prices
Voices
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
voices
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam