`New Kind of Newspaper' Teeters in Britain Begun as a Voice of Objectivity in the London Press, the Independent Now Worries about Investors' Politics

Article excerpt

A VALIANT bid to create a British daily newspaper free from special-interest pressures, and with a lively mind of its own, appears to be headed for failure.

The Independent, launched at the height of the economic boom of the 1980s and in its early years an apparent journalistic success, is losing readers and looking for a financial savior.

Media analysts worry that if a rescuer is found, the free-wheeling character proclaimed in the paper's banner could disappear. The paper has stressed in-depth reporting, detailed political analysis, and high-quality reviewing.

Among leading bidders is the Mirror Group of newspapers, which supports socialist causes, but whose executives have promised not to interfere with the paper's editorial stance.

Another possible outcome is that Conrad Black, the Canadian newspaper tycoon who owns the London Daily Telegraph, will buy a controlling interest. The Telegraph supports the ruling Conservative Party. United Newspapers, publishers of the right-wing Daily Express, also has met with Independent executives.

When it was launched in 1986, "the Indy" (as its journalists call it), set out to prove that a quality newspaper did not need to be part of a giant corporation to succeed. Its three founders, led by Andreas Whittam Smith, who remains the editor, were all journalists lacking experience in newspaper production or marketing.

They set up a company called Newspaper Publishing and turned to the City of London (the British capital's financial district) for the money needed to produce a newspaper that would challenge established broadsheets. The cash was forthcoming from banks and other corporate investors, and what Mr. Whittam Smith at the time called an attempt to establish "a new kind of newspaper" quickly caught on with the public.

It attracted readers, as well as several senior writers, from competing papers, including the Times, the Telegraph, and the Guardian.

Another of the founders, Stephen Glover, who has since left the paper, says the Independent got off to a solid start because it appealed to middle-class readers, many of them "tired of the old formula being served up by existing broadsheets."

Instead, Whittam Smith gave the paper a quirky flavor by British standards. For the first four years, for example, he refused to print detailed reports of the British royal family's activities. …


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