If it were to be alleged that the Evening Standard was giving driver and rider matching service Uber a rather easy time of it, that would not be the first time such an allegation had been made. Such allegations have been made with good cause: the Standard has been almost fawningly pro-Uber more or less from the word go. And what is worse, that stance is not going to change any time soon. I fact, it’s going to get worse.
We know this after the good people at Open Democracy rumbled the Standard’s latest money-making wheeze, overseen personally by its new editor, the Rt Hon Gideon George Oliver Osborne, heir to the Seventeenth Baronet. Gathering the incriminating information has been James Cusick, who put together the John Whittingdale story during his time at the Independent, only for Amol Rajan to get cold feet and spike it.
The headline is damning. “George Osborne’s London Evening Standard sells its editorial independence to Uber, Google and others - for £3 million … Newspaper promised six commercial giants ‘money-can’t-buy’ news coverage in a lucrative deal, leaving millions of Londoners unaware of who’s paying for their news”. There is more.
“The project, called London 2020, is being directed by Osborne. It effectively sweeps away the conventional ethical divide between news and advertising inside the Standard - and is set to include ‘favourable’ news coverage of the firms involved, with readers unable to differentiate between ‘news’ that is paid-for and other commercially-branded content”.
That means articles favourable to those companies prepared to bung George and his pals a few hundred bags of sand won’t carry the usual “Advertisement feature”, or any other health warning. They will just look like normal news features. And yes, Uber watchers, “Among those that have paid half a million pounds each to be involved are international taxi-app firm Uber, which is facing an imminent court appeal against the decision to cancel its licence to operate in London”. A half a million quid bung. Think about that.
Cusick also notes “The Evening Standard has previously come under fire for not declaring Osborne’s £650,000-a-year part time job with the fund managers BlackRock, who hold a £500m stake in Uber”. London’s cab trade has good reason to think that the publicity deck is stacked against them - because it is stacked against them.
To its great credit, Starbucks walked away from the Standard’s offer. “One Starbucks senior executive, who asked not to be named, told openDemocracy: ‘Buying positive news coverage is PR death…something you might do in Saudi Arabia, but not here. This wasn’t right for us. We do engage in advertorial [a hybrid mix of advertising and editorial] but that’s just marketing. We don’t need to buy our reputation.’” Quite.
So when Uber’s appeal is reported in the Standard, we already know what the line to take will be - it will be slavishly pro-Uber. But all those who read the Standard don’t get that explained or even admitted to them. The paper has sold its credibility down the river in order to prop up its finances - and sold out Londoners yet again.
Journalism, so the saying goes, is printing what someone else doesn’t want printed, and everything else is PR. The Evening Standard has abandoned journalism in favour of PR. It is no longer a credible news source. And that’s not good enough.