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His first professional post on a magazine was on a fledgling Manchester publication called Sub, where he wrote a spoof horoscope under the pen name of Snufkin. After a period working on various magazines for Dennis Publishing, McNicholas went on to write for the dance press holding senior positions at both Ministry and Mixmag magazines before going on to edit Muzik.
McNicholas served as editor of New Musical Express from 2003 to 2009. At the start of his term at NME he boosted sales by focusing on the 'new rock revolution' which included bands such as The Strokes and White Stripes.
In 2007, Morrissey announced that he was going to sue both McNicholas and NME for libel over an article on the singer's views on immigration. The case was settled in June 2012 when NME issued a statement saying "we apologise to Morrissey if he or anyone else misunderstood our piece".
In June 2009 it was announced that McNicholas would be leaving the NME to take over as the editor of Top Gear magazine. He left after less than a year to work at News International on the launch of Buzz magazine at The Sun.
He later served as Executive Content Director at the content agency Redwood before going on to be CEO of the full service digital engagement agency AllTogetherNow within the WPP Group, which he founded in 2014.
Since July 2017 he has worked as a consultant, completing major projects for both energy company E.ON and digital business consultancy Publicis.Sapient.
During his editorship McNicholas has won several industry awards including:
- Consumer Magazine Editor of the Year (Periodical Publishers Association Editorial and Publishing Excellence Awards, May 2005)
- Entertainment Magazine Editor of the Year (British Society of Magazine Editors, November 2005)
- Tour of the Year for the NME Awards Tour 2006 (Vodafone Live Music Awards, October 2006)
- Editor of the Year & Music Magazine of the Year (Record of the Day Music Journalism and PR Awards, November 2006)
- Brand Building Initiative of the Year for Club NME (British Society of Magazine Editors, November 2006)
- In 2007 and 2008 McNicholas was listed as one of the 1000 most influential people in London by the Evening Standard
- In 2007, 2008 and 2009 McNicholas was a judge on the Mercury Music Prize panel.
- Elected Chairman of the British Society of Magazine Editors for 2009.
- "Morrissey to sue NME over story". BBC News. 29 November 2007. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- "NME apologises to singer Morrissey over article". BBC News. 13 June 2012. Retrieved 30 April 2010.
- Luft, Oliver (24 June 2009). "Top Gear magazine appoints NME's Conor McNicholas as editor". The Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved 27 June 2009.
- Sweeney, Mark (29 June 2010). "Top Gear magazine editor Conor McNicholas quits". The Guardian. Retrieved 18 September 2010.
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