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Manchester Evening News editor: The MEN is the national of the North and will never ‘sod off’ down south

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Manchester Evening News editor Sarah Lester has been making the headlines herself following an in-depth interview with the Press Gazette in which she spoke of her ambitions to make the MEN “the national of the North.”

The ambitions were backed up by some impressive data. Although, in common with every newspaper on the planet, the MEN’s print circulation has been in steady decline since the world went digital, it has simultaneously grown to become the largest regional news brand in the UK by online audience, and for the past year has consistently been in the top ten of all news brands in the UK according to industry standard metric Ipsos iris.

In January it rose to eighth biggest of all UK news brands, growing by five per cent year-on-year to reach 18 million people, or 36 per cent of the UK, with 105 million page views.

Lester has clearly set herself a high bar, pointing out to the Gazette that: “The New York Times started life as local brand… I have high ambitions for the MEN.”

The editor, who took up the post last July having worked at the MEN since 1997, didn’t shy away from some of the criticisms that have been levelled at the MEN recently, particularly on social media including:

Clickbait: “We don’t do that and no Reach publications do that. But what we find is that people tend to use clickbait to refer to content they don’t like or they don’t think the MEN should be covering.”

Too much fluff: “I dare say there’s a touch of sexism about it…fashion and shopping and telly is predominantly a female area and most criticism I get tends to be from blokes, to be honest.

“I’m not going to apologise. It takes great skill to write that television content. You can write rubbish TV content and good TV content. But it’s like being a court reporter. I couldn’t send the TV writer to court and I couldn’t get a court reporter to write about telly. It’s a real skill to do it properly…and we should hold it with great respect.”

It was that “national of the North” line that perhaps grabbed the most attention, though, predictably stoking rivalries with the good folk on the other side of the Pennines:

Here at Prolific North, however, it wasn’t the cross-Pennine rivalry that struck us most about the “national of the North” claim. The North already had its own national once, after all. It was called the Manchester Guardian, and it promptly packed its bags and headed for the big smoke (sorry, downsized its Manchester operation) at the first sign of success.

Cheekily, we wondered aloud via Reach’s press office whether Lester’s plans for the MEN featured a similar relocation element if successful? Perhaps it could even move in to share a Canary Wharf office with The Guardian, just as it had until early this century when, as a Guardian property, the MEN was The Guardian’s neighbour in the pair’s Deansgate Manchester office.

Lester was unequivocal in her response: “The Manchester Evening News will never ‘sod off’ down south. It’s my view that it’s only a matter of time before more publishers and journalists understand the need to ‘sod off up north.’”

Fighting talk – over to you London.

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