Culture House Daily

The Independent hasn’t died, it has merely changed its form

12 February 2016

1:53 PM

12 February 2016

1:53 PM

Our newsagents are about to get a little duller: the Independent is no more – at least, not the print edition. I know that, in this brave new digital world of ours, we’re not supposed to equate the end of print with the death of a title. But it’s certainly the end of an era. The Independent is what brought me into journalism: I started reading it when it was set up, and was hooked pretty quickly. My first journalistic heroes—Andrew Marr and Neal Ascherson—wrote for its pages. A friend bought me Paper Dreams, Stephen Glover’s story of the Independent, for my 20th birthday. I had no friends or relatives in journalism, but that book opened a portal into this world – and I was converted; I decided that this was what I wanted to do with my life. I succeeded in getting work experience at the Independent in 1996, which was great because even then it had no staff and the interns got to write in the paper. There was plenty of gallows humour about how the whole enterprise was doomed and had only a few months to live. And that was 20 years ago.

Shortly after I was there, Andrew Marr became the paper’s editor. He met Kelvin MacKenzie, former editor of the Sun and later recalled their exchange:

‘“Congratulations, young Marr… or Number Four, as I shall now call you.’ I blinked and smiled. “Why number four, I asked, why not Andrew?” “Because,” said Kelvin, “You’re the fourth of them. I’m not going to call you by your name because we don’t want to get all human and intimate. Then I might be upset when they sack you… as they undoubtedly will.”’

And they did. Any editor works with the Sword of Damocles hanging over their desk – and when a publication has lost its way, editors are sacked fairly frequently. But under the Independent’s current editor, the brilliant Amol Rajan, I’d say that the newspaper was going through a revival – as we saw with its magnificent redesign. But it had a potent rival. Not the Times (contrary to what the Guardian says, its price war was with the Daily Telegraph) but the i. Look at the below chart: it shows you how the smaller, cheaper version—the i cost 40p to the Independent‘s £1.60—rose at the expense of the mothership, cannibalising its sales.


It could well be, as John Rentoul argues, that this saved the Independent – that selling a popular 40p version brought in extra revenue and prolonged the life of the paper. But ultimately, there was not space in the market for both newspapers – especially wih advertising moving online so quickly. I’m not sure that the Independent’s website will be comparable to the newspaper. On its homepage right now, we’re invited to read about how a woman cut off a guy’s penis and took it to a police station: such stories do well online, but Amol would never put it on the front of the newspaper. One can argue that new technology created the Independent, and killed it – but the Independent hasn’t really died. It has just changed its form: it went tabloid, then split in two, and one half is now going out of print. The other half, i, is being sold to Johnston Press, who bought my old newspaper, the Scotsman, ten years ago. The independent’s website will take only 25 journalists from the print title; about 40 are expected to move to the i and about 90 now face redundancy. The last issue will be on 26 March. (I’ll add it to my last News of the World: before this decade is out I suspect collectors will be able to buy the last print edition of the Guardian) At its best the Independent was a project, as much as it was a newspaper: Marr referred to it as a ‘noble cause and perpetual delight’. And here’s how Glover ended his book…

‘For the moment the Independent – I use the word now to describe the company which I helped to found – is a great ship becalmed on a windless ocean. One day, I hope, I trust, the sweet winds will rise up again, our sails will open and the ship will be carried forward, whatever its crew, to new adventures.’

P.S. Further to the idea of the Independent being born by technology: a good explanation was given in the Independent last month by Donald Macintyre, one of the refuseniks who left the Times in protest at its move to Wapping and its embrace of desktop publishing technology. He now admits that the Independent (which snapped him up) was a beneficiary of the Wapping dispute in two ways:

‘It gained from the corrosive impact on the image of The Times, the once pre-eminent paper of record, from being produced behind barbed wire at a Wapping plant besieged by pickets. But it gained even more because Murdoch’s coup, however brutal, made it easier for a new newspaper to launch at all with new technology.’


Andrew Mullins, who helped launch the I, has been in touch to say that my graph is misleading because it includes all of the bulks, smoke and mirrors that newspapers use to flatter their circulation figures. Stripped away, he says, the picture would look more like this…

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Show comments
  • JP Janson De Couet

    It was telling everybody to vote Coalition because Lebedev didn’t like the Mansion Tax that got all the loyal Independent readers to catch the next train out of town …

  • Vuil

    Occasionally a bit of good news in the world.

    The odiousness of The Independent is that it was like the Grauniad while pretending to be neutral.

    Good riddance.

  • Gebhard Von Blucher

    “…before this decade is out I suspect collectors will be able to buy the last print edition of the Guardian”. Well, I certainly hope so, although I won’t be wasting my money on the last issue.

  • Al Junio R

    Nearly everything I was thrilled to see at a newsagent has bit the dust. The ‘Today’ was good when it first came out too.

    • gunnerbear

      Remember the Sunday Correspondent………..? There’s a reference for the teens…. 🙂

  • HHGeek

    I always date the beginning of the Indie’s decline to Marr’s appointment as editor. I don’t know if there were background machinations that impacted simultaneously, but no matter how fantastic a journalist he’d been until then, I was definitely left with the impression that he was a *horrible* editor. A pity that it never recovered after he moved on. I’ve kept buying it at weekends more out of nostalgia & for a handful of the foreign reporters than for anything else, & have been resenting the ongoing price rises vs. reduction in output for ages. So I’m kind of glad to see it put out of its misery.

  • Polly Radical

    The appallingly low standard of journalism, commentary, photography and layout might also have had something to do with it.

  • Chelseagirl

    I was brought up on a Council estate by hard working parents. I can not recall ever seeing a newspaper in our house. When i was around 25 i bought my first newspaper The Independent and was hooked. Being clueless on most issues i relied on the impartiality of this newspaper to present the facts and encourage my independent thinking and opinion. I now work for Central government so know the truth behind many headlines so have constantly become confused by the lefty lies now being reported as quality journalism. I just hope that some of the original team set up a new online news service as there is huge need.

    • Rajmuld

      The “original team” are now in their late 70s. There are hundreds of online news and comment sites nowadays…….Did your heartbreaking council estate upbringing include school?

      • Chelseagirl

        Whats heartbreaking, I am certainly not heartbroken I had a very happy childhood. But there were no newspapers or news programmes for us.

        Yep. The type that pushed all girls into shop or factory work at best secretaries. the boys didn’t really get any options it was factories.

        My school was the type that churned out un-opinionated un-thinking Ants to be walked on and over their entire lives.

        • GnosticBrian

          Surely some mistake. The teachers’ Unions are forever telling us how their members are an inspiration to those on sink eatates turning snotty nosed urchins into Nobel Prize winning physicists and brain surgeons.

          • Chelseagirl

            Eye that’ll be right. It was the 70’s & 80’s. No such thing as a sink estate back then. There was also no such thing as unemployment as everyone worked, and worked bloody hard. Kids had no option but to work.

        • Mr B J Mann


          Iwent to school in the 60s.

          On a slum ghetto estate.

          We dreamed of living on a council estate!

          And we had papers!

          And if you didn’t you could have pieced the news together from the loo paper in the khazi at the bottom of the garden.*

          Or caught up with it from the chip wrapping.

          And I can recall watching the B&w news on BBC (1) and ITV.

          Whereas the council estate kids had BBC2 and COLOUR!

          * OK, I was exaggerating there: we did have an indoor loo.

          AND Izal paper!

          • flipkipper

            Beautiful commentary lad. Now type that into Google Translate and see if we can get the application to translate it into English.

            • gunnerbear

              C’mon, BJs just doing the ‘Four Yorkshiremen’…..

              • Mr B J Mann

                Aye, and it’s only recently I traded up to a plastic flat screen TV.

                It’s not so long since we still had a wooden TV.

                Worked pretty well.

                But the picture was a bit grainy!

            • Mr B J Mann

              You’ve flipped, kipper!

          • gunnerbear

            An indoor toilet… I tell you…..when I were a lad, we were lucky to have an ice rimmed hole in the ground….. 🙂

            • Mr B J Mann

              You were lucky to have an ice rimmed hole.

              We had no such luxuries after the Izal!

  • Arron Blue

    One less britnat propaganda sheet.

  • Ron Todd

    The Guardians long tern plan is take over the BBC the i should start infiltrating its people into channel 4 befor the guardian gets there.

  • Richard Young

    My greatest concern re. the Independent closure is the thought of more BBC time for Yasmin [Britain should be ashamed] Alibhai-Brown.

    • Chelseagirl

      I am repulsed by this women. She has single handedly quashed any sensible debate about multi-culturism. constantly on the defensive. So we the PC brigade shut up and she is never challenged. Hence we never move forward and inner resentment simmers even if its based upon untruths because she stops the discussion before its began.

  • logdon


    Melanie Phillips (she is right sometimes) called it a ‘sewer’.

    Whether it’s Israel or immigration, there they are, nailing their virtue signalling colours to the mast like the prancing children they are.

    And Fraser Nelson is rapturously impressed?

    God help us all.

  • logdon

    What a load of gush.

  • Sean L

    With any luck the super soaraway dumbed-down Tory Leftygraph will soon follow.

  • Larzlaff

    The “brilliant” Amol Rajan has been sliming around Lebedev for years – he’s an Oligarch’s PR man posing as a journalist. His gimmicky paper is a joke too – like the Huffington Post it’s been trying to turn journalism into an amateur pastime in which only well connected kids like Rajan are paid a pittance – or ideally nothing – for churning out gimmicky BS.

  • Chamber Pot

    I mean they had that shrill nursery feminist and narcissist, Laurie Penny, as a contributor.

    The rag was archetypal leftist infantilism carping on about Americans and how stupid they are – it was elitist sh***t on stilts.

    • gunnerbear

      I just found the Indie boring.

      • Chamber Pot

        What do you expect of a paper written by 12 year olds ?

  • Chamber Pot

    It’s dead Fraser let’s face it and not get all sentimental.

  • Alchemist

    It was a poor man’s Guardian at the end…what could be a more dismal fate? I think people have had enough of this metro-pseud leftism.

  • Landphil

    Read it in the 80s but not since.

  • King Zog

    “…but the Independent hasn’t really died. It has just changed its form: it went tabloid, then split in two, and one half is now going out of print.”

    Bit like the Roman Empire.

    • Andrew Cole

      And what of said empire now? Did one part survive?

      • Nuahs87

        Are we predicting that the Independent group is going to limp on for a while before being overrun by Muslims?

        • Helen Fairgrieve

          a while in the eastern empire’s case was about a thousand years though

      • GnosticBrian

        Yes, headed by the bishop of Rome.

        The other half is marching across Europe from Constantinople to Calais.

  • Flintshire Ian

    Don’t get too cocky – I don’t always unwrap my copy of the print edition of The Spectator because the digital iPhone version is now just as good. There will come a time when not enough people are willing to pay for the print version of any newspaper or periodical – and it’s not too far away.

    • King Zog

      Hah! Suddenly I don’t feel so guilty…

  • WTF

    They changed it alright and have shut down the comments on anything controversial.

    • Andrew Cole

      I bet there will be no comments on the web version, most definitely not on YAB’s cameo appearances.

      • Chamber Pot

        The yawnsome YAB. Good grief that demented old suffragette delivering homilies to the converted !

      • WTF

        She got well and truly trashed on her last article so you’re probably right, there wont be any comments for YAB or anyone else

        • vieuxceps2

          Yabba,the champion race-correspondent,forever deploring racism whilst fomenting it to ensure her continued employment. What will she do now,poor thing?

  • flipkipper

    the deep philosophy of #sayitasitisandstopwaffling has ended the life of yet another print ed
    nowadays 140 characters must suffice (excl ads and incl punctuation)

    • Andrew Cole

      Haven’t you heard? The 140 characters thingamy is on the decline as well!!

  • Malcolm Stevas

    Unlike some reviewers I never found the Indy a vile dogmatic Lefty rag, simply a damp-Left sub-Grauniad paper that I would sometimes buy on train journeys for its often interesting feature articles. Pity to see it go, part of the journo landscape for much longer than many predicted.

  • SonOfaGun

    ‘The brilliant Amol Rajan’? In recent times the Independent had all the class of ‘Buzzfeed’.

  • jim

    No loss.There are plenty of other gimps on other rags doling out the PC bromides.

  • SonOfaGun

    Marr, Glover, Rajan, Nelson. How could it fail?

  • MikeF

    The Independent started off with the intention of being just that – a publication that sough to be objective and not to follow any particularly partisan political line. But it gradually became a dour dogmatic left-liberal propaganda sheet without even the counter-balance of the occasional eccentricity that at least gave the Guardian a superficial degree of character. There was literally nothing in it worth reading except Ivan Ponting’s obituaries of former footballers. It is to cease publication because it has ceased being worth publishing.

    • Atlas

      Just another leftist propaganda rag, wholly unnecessary when we already have the Guardian and the BBC.

      • Paul

        Although I try to, don’t forget the Mirror

      • Leon Wolfeson

        Ah, no difference for you of course…they’re not you, so…

    • Adam Bromley

      Yes, I remember when it was first launched, it was a refreshing change with no clear political affiliation and some excellent articles. Then as you say, turned into a ranting, less quirky version of The Guardian.

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Never mind what’s happening to all paid newspapers.

    • The Duke of Mendoza

      Dead right. In its first incarnation it was also beautifully typeset and had an extraordinary way of reproducing B/W photographs. The collapse started when Marr, having been the sharpest political columnist then functioning, rose to the editor’s chair. And then he led the campaign to ban handguns, and I gave up. Good luck to them online—the website is incredibly slow to load and astonishingly badly designed. If I want to read what the gauches de salon are thinking, give me the Guardian, thanks. It might be crap, but it’s legible crap, and quick.

  • locomotion

    Good riddance to a horrible lefty propaganda sheet that liked to think it was the voice of reason, but wasn’t.
    I look forward to seeing newspaper racks without its whiny, whingey, sanctimonious, misguided, adolescent, alarmist, negative, dumb headlines.

    • Alex

      Yep, a slot freed up for another stack of sober, measured Daily Mails

      • whs1954

        The Mail, for all its faults, doesn’t have that nasty miasma of preachy sanctimony, combined with a sneering, uncomprehending contempt for anyone whose views fall outside an arbitrary pale set by an in-crowd.

        I could imagine an Independent editorial meeting where someone might put forward a pitch for an op-ed and be met with a cry of “My God, they might write that in the Daily Mail!” and for that to end the discussion. I couldn’t imagine a Mail writer allowing the discussion to be ended if he was met with “My God, they might write that in the Independent!”

        • Alex

          Hahaha, the Mail doesn’t have a miasma of preachy sanctimony etc? You serious?

    • gunnerbear

      That’s a bit harsh on the Express………

    • Leon Wolfeson

      Oh, so you just see the Torygraph, right.

  • Discuscutter

    Maybe it was a project with its own foibles but the Internet played a part as well.

    I know no one under 40 who buys a hardcopy newspaper or even a magazine.

    I know a few in their 40s who buy papers on a Sunday.

    • Flintshire Ian

      I am still buying The Sunday Times in print (not that I will see 40 again) because it is bundled in with the web subscription, but like the print version of the Speccy it isn’t always read because I have usually read on line what I want to (Liddle, Clarkson, news headlines, football) before the paper shop is open.

      • gunnerbear

        It’s probably just me but I can’t do with reading the papers on line on a phone (and I don’t like Kindle either)!

        • Flintshire Ian

          I didn’t think that I would enjoy it either but I have got used to it, particularly the iPhone editions of The Spectator and The Economist. I was a BlackBerry fan until I got this 6s with quite a large screen last December and I am now hooked

  • zag2

    The only headline I remember was something about all the poor people starving to death and using food banks. Was a rubbish untrue headline back then and a sign of a failing paper.