In an age of spin, The Independent offered something different

By: Hugh Morris, Student Voices writer
The Independent has been a pioneer for change in the British press... promoting itself as the newspaper that was ‘free from political bias’, attracted thousands of new readers.



It was with great sadness that I learned earlier this week that The Independent and The Independent on Sunday were to stop their print versions next month. As someone who, in one form or another, has been influenced by The Independent throughout my life, whether it was through the snatching of the copy through the letterbox to devour the sports pages aged six, to the beginnings of my interest in politics in more recent times, the decision to move to an internet-only service left me feeling surprisingly melancholy.

Since it was founded in 1986, The Independent has been a pioneer for change in the British press. Its initial stance, promoting itself as the newspaper that was ‘free from political bias’, attracted thousands of new readers. Further innovations in the size of their newspaper, the introduction of a Sunday newspaper and in their choice of younger, more dynamic editors has won itself a lot of admirers.

However, gaining respect does not directly convert into gaining readers, and circulation of the print copy of Indy slumped to a depressing 56,074 copies daily in December. At a time when the print journalism sector is in decline as more readers are usurped by online news sites, this could be seen as perfectly understandable, but, when viewed in comparison to The Guardian at over 150,000 copies and The Sun at 1.8 million copies in the same period, The Independent has a clear problem.

Being a reader of The Independent has sometimes been difficult. Being the only family in our village who took delivery of it illustrates its lack of a wide readership. Finding a copy on holiday (or even away from home) was like gold dust; my parents’ miserable acceptance of a Times or even a Telegraph from a venture into a petrol station was particularly poignant. I distinctly remember a class poll taken by an English teacher in Year 8, who compared the front covers of two newspapers she had picked out of the local newsagent’s. Out of a class of 30, I was the only one to choose The Independent’s content over the sensationalised cover of the tabloid, drawing a couple of predictably Year 8 responses from my classmates. However, I was happy to take a stand and support the paper that nobody else really liked.

Taking a stand is something that The Independent has proudly done, despite its comparably short history. The creation of the ‘Viewspaper’ pull-out symbolises this -a newspaper not afraid to turn criticism into creation, following its condemnation by Tony Blair. The paper’s radical centrist approach has led to it leading on issues of human rights and civil liberties, spearheading appeals to accept more Syrian refugees in Britain and on debating Israel-Palestine. Its yearly approach to charity work, such as raising £3.5 million to go to Great Ormond Street Hospital is commendable too.

However, it is its commitment to giving all people a voice which was most different to other papers. Founded after the Wapping dispute in 1986, The Independent has always had the most underrepresented at its heart, and having a philosophy that a newspaper represents and takes into account the views and opinions of its readers has been important in its development. Andrew Marr described The Independent as a paper whose journalism was turning to democracy, and, by actively promoting its ‘Voices’,’ Comment’ and ‘Opinion’ pages, this is certainly true today. One particular area which The Independent is right in highlighting is Voices in Danger, ‘a platform for journalists harmed for just doing their job’; we are all guilty of taking the safety and protection we experience in the UK for those involved in journalism as a given worldwide, and hopefully the awareness campaign will extend to create change through a paper which is gradually reaching a wider, worldwide audience.

Most newspapers are very reliable in their output, which makes finding real news so difficult to distinguish from interpretations. The owner, Evgeny Lebedev’s statement that the paper is the first in the UK to fully embrace a ‘global, digital-only future’ perhaps strays away from this, given the financial and circulatory problems the Indy was having. However, The Independent’s lack of political sway and bias led to truly constructive news, proving that there can be news without spin, and letting its own readers decide for themselves on an issue, a key aspect of British political life. A YouGov survey has found that the UK has ‘the most right-wing press in Europe’, which, if anything, highlights the necessity of a party neutral, centrist paper to counteract an abundance of similar, one sided views.

All is not doom and gloom for The Independent. Some might argue the paper is benefitting from going online; its social media pages are some of the most popular of all of the British newspapers, leading to its global audience reaching 70 million people. It has expanded into Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and has increased its monthly audience by a third. But I can’t help feeling that this is a move in a similar vein to that of BBC Three, being forced into an online retreat because of financial worries.

The Independent’s 30 year tenure as a modernizer and a pioneer has been welcome in the British press. It has certainly shaken things up, and has given us all a template for a party neutral paper, incorporating differing opinions in order for readers to make up their own minds, to not just spoon- feed news to the public. I sincerely hope that The Independent carries on its sterling work on a platform which they may reap the benefits from. But I’m of the opinion that this might be one innovation too far.



Meet the author:

Hugh Morris
Writer
17 year old Music student and writer, covering the Arts and Politics. Durham, North East. Twitter@hughmorris__
In an age of spin, The Independent offered something different In an age of spin, The Independent offered something different Reviewed by Unknown on 17:31 Rating: 5

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