Magazine article The Spectator

The Indie Has Improved, but the Sindie Has the Better Thinkers

Magazine article The Spectator

The Indie Has Improved, but the Sindie Has the Better Thinkers

Article excerpt

So - the Independent. Nine months have passed since Tony O'Reilly's Irish group gained complete control of the paper and its Sunday sister. Money has at last been poured in. There is more editorial space and more journalists to fill it. It feels like a proper newspaper again, with proper news and some good stories, such as the one this week alleging that that old rogue Lord Goodman fleeced poor Viscount Portman. All in all it's a considerable achievement. The Independent's new editor, Simon Kelner, has much to be proud of. Given his reputation as a hard-drinking exsports editor who was thought to believe that Hegel once played left-back for Blackburn Rovers, it is all rather surprising.

Where has it got him? Nowhere yet. December's sales figures of 218,389 are no better than those he inherited last May. All this must be very dispiriting. You get hold of a paper that has suffered under investment for years and has more or less abandoned the quaint old habit of putting news on the front page in favour of interpretative, featurey pieces. You turn all that around and win the confidence of your staff and the respect of many other journalists. But the new readers don't materialise even though your management sinks several millions pounds into promotion. There is very little justice in Fleet Street.

The truth is that it is difficult to win back disenchanted readers who were swept along by the early euphoria of the Independent. There have been so many botched relaunches and abortive re-designs since the paper began to go wrong in the early Nineties. Of course a hard core of readers has remained loyal - you still meet romantic types at dinner parties who aver undying affection for the paper and won't accept that it has gone an inch downhill - but many who flocked to the standard in 1986 have returned somewhat grumpily to the Times, Telegraph or Guardian. Others who took the Independent as a second newspaper have simply given it up. To convince old readers that they should give it another shot, or new readers that it is worth trying, is going to be hard.

But not impossible, I think. I still believe that the future of the Independent lies in being a cut above its somewhat dumbeddown rivals. In some respects it has achieved this under Mr Kelner's editorship, but the paper remains conspicuously weak where it should be strong - in the thinking department. I personally don't like having leaders and columns in a second section -- which section, by the by, has a review front that is sometimes difficult to fill. But the real point is that the leaders are not as good as they should be and that few of the columnists are first rate. There is something slightly timid and predictable about the editorials. I remember a brilliant Independent leader once written by my old colleague Matthew Symonds - at a time when the paper unashamedly espoused free market economics - in defence of ticket touts.

Top rate columnists are, of course, notoriously difficult to attract. For one thing they expect a lot of money these days - a recruit on another paper was offered a signing-on fee - and for another they may regard the Independent as a slightly dodgy proposition for paying off the mortgage. I expect the paper may solve all that in time. …

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