And then came Covid… the story of 2020

At the recent PPA Independent Publisher Conference, the seven editors shortlisted for the ‘Editor of the Year’ award, gave attendees their perspective on 2020.

By James Evelegh

And then came Covid… the story of 2020
Top row (l-r): Owen Meredith (PPA), Philip Jones, Emma De Vita; Middle row (l-r): Martin Fullard, Jaimie Kaffash, Sophie Griffiths; Bottom row (l-r): Esther Newman, Uwern Jong.

The final session of last week’s PPA Independent Publisher Conference was a panel involving the seven editors shortlisted for the ‘Editor of the Year’ award.

Many of them had a similar story to tell: a 2019 full of redesigns, digital developments, product launches, exciting plans … and then came Covid.

A year, or rather a judging period, of two very contrasting halves.

“Challenging is an understatement for how 2020 went” said OutThere’s Uwern Jong, who chose ‘pivot’ as his word of the year.

So, what were some of the characteristics of those shortlisted:

1. They stepped up and took on a leadership role

Conference News’ Martin Fullard spoke of the “tremendous responsibility”, when his readers were looking to him for guidance and answers on matters of business survival – issues which in “normal” times, he might have considered above his paygrade.

TTG’s Sophie Griffiths lobbied government on behalf of her traumatised readers in the travel sector – #savetravel. She’s still waiting for an answer, but is chasing.

2. They supported their readers in crisis

For Sophie Griffiths, the key question was: “how do we support our audience through this horrific time?” The answer was many and varied: a coronavirus hub, fortnightly seminars, a Q&A forum and weekly Twitter storms, amongst other things.

The Bookseller’s Philip Jones organised a crowdfunding campaign to help bale out small book publishers badly hit by the closure of bookshops during lockdown.

For Women’s Running’s Esther Newman, the eventual award winner, it was about providing “guidance and empathy” for her many readers who were “feeling overwhelmed”.

3. They worked really hard

Producing a monthly magazine, a new podcast, home schooling two young children, and fighting over the only desk in the house, will be Project’s Emma De Vita’s abiding memory of 2020.

Pulse’s Jamie Kaffash’s team increased website traffic by 150% with a reduced headcount, after two members of staff inconveniently handed in their notice just before a recruitment freeze.

These editors, and their teams, stepped up, worked doubly hard, tried new things and took their responsibility to their readers incredibly seriously.

They faced the pandemic head on and appear to have come out on top.