It was. Am I?

It is are you

The famous 1986 strapline

The imminent demise of the (print version) of the Independent has made me rather sad. We get attached to various media sources: they can control or twist our world-view. If someone takes them away, we feel bereft and have to start looking for another source of info and comment we can trust/agree with. In this digital age, that is rather hard, because the quality and depth just isn’t there.

Shah and the Indie have gone: Murdoch has survived.

The Indie (as its friends called it) started out 30 years ago, and it’s been a fairly constant companion to me ever since. It was a consequence of (and benefited from) the Fleet Street revolution brought about by two men in the 80s: Eddie Shah and Rupert Murdoch.

  • Eddie Shah founded the short-lived Today – a classy tabloid that proved you could get into colour (print and photos) and by-pass Fleet Street’s ‘Spanish practices’ and restrictive manning.
  • Murdoch’s revolution was to endure the long strike on the Times and then simply to set up shop at Wapping, with its computers and modern practices. I disapproved of his methods big-time , and have never bought a Murdoch paper since. But his trailblazing opened the gates for the Indie (a) because of the new technology and (b) by opening up a gap in the market.


Anyway, having been through several proprietors, launching a Sunday version (known as the Sindie) and founding a revolutionary sister paper (the i), the Indie is on the way out. There’s much to miss amongst its distinctive features:


  • commitment to excellence in photography. Very noticeable in the early days, less so now digital photography is here and the other papers have caught up.
  • complete absence of over-the-top Royal coverage. New babies got a par in the home news if they were lucky. Weddings got a photo-story, and even the Diana funeral coverage was respectful but not the stuff of showbiz that infects most other papers.
  • suspicion of organised religion. There were some very off-beam editorials about matters of faith and the churches. That was odd, given that for some years the leading Catholic journalist Paul Vallely was a senior editor (he now writes for the Church Times and is a biographer of Pope Francis). Even odder was that it happened despite the fact that a very senior figure and co-founder of the Indie, Andreas Whittam Smith is the senior figure at the Church Commissioners. The Commissioners and I have crossed swords paths once or twice at General Synod (see elsewhere in this blog).
  • refusal ( in the early days) to collude with what its founders saw as corrosive journalistic practices such as the Parliamentary Lobby system – and taking freebies from travel companies (see Simon Calder in my list of Indie stars below)
Independent 20 03 16 01

Front page of the last-ever Independent on Sunday magazine

The killing-off of this superb paper has given rise to various reflections on its distinctiveness, runs of bad luck, succession of editors (even Andrew Marr had a go) and it has opened up the ‘dead trees vs digital’ debate. Chris Rogers is but one informed commentator who describes it well and, like me, will miss it.(read him here)

Yes, I know the paper (will have to stop calling it that…) is launching a digi-paper. But, frankly, it’s not the same.

  • That once-great (if oddly right-wing) paper the Telegraph is embarrassing when read online.
  • The Grauniad (© Private Eye) has led the way on quality online daily news for free, but even they are starting to carry those ghastly paid-for and sponsored links that your really don’t want to be bothered with. And they are having to make some huge cuts as their finances are in a mess.
  • And don’t even mention Mail Online…
  • I suspect I shall downsize to the i -and hope to find some of the same quality of journalism there. Really, I resent paying for internet stuff – even though the online version will be cheaper than the current £1.60 a day. (Sign up for it here if you are more charitable than I am…)


Missing you already…

Just in case I forget them, there are some writers in the Indie stable who’ve kept me on the ball in a number of areas.

  • Robert Fisk – whose searing reporting from the Middle East gets inside the politics (he seem to know everyone and have been everywhere) and goes right into what’s happening. I shall remember his everlasting excoriation of Tony Blair as ‘Lord Blair of Kut-al-amarah’ (apparently it refers to a British surrender to the Ottoman forces in the First World War, but indicates Fisk’s repulsion at the adventurism of Afghanistan and Iraq). More seriously, his harking back to the shameful massacres of Sabra and Shabila, his explanations  of the (to me) complexities of Sunni and Shia politics, and his willingness to say unpopular things about the Saudi regime mean I feel better informed about the Middle East – and our part in its downfall-  than other newspapers have made me.
  • Jane Merrick – her byline photo matches her authority as a writer who combines political nous with the realities of family living
  • Mark Dampier – over many years’ reading his Saturday column eventually set me on a path to sorting out my pension provision and (I suspect) has gained Hargreaves Lansdown many hundreds of clients.
  • Simon Calder – “the man who pays his way” is his strapline, recalling the slightly puritan approach taken by the Indie in its early days to reporting without journalistic freebies. His writing exudes a love of travel, but stedfastly refuses declines to plug tour operators or to puff resorts. It is straightforward, knowledgeable stuff about places and about the background to the travel trade.
  • Hamish McRae – a man who has made me think I could understand economics. Some achievement.
  • John Lichfield – as a fellow-Francophile, I love his ‘inside track’ on French life and politics. He doesn’t treat them as foreigners, simple as that…
  • Guy Keleny’s Saturday column was a wonderful invention: he took his own journalists to task for their grammatical errors, idiomatic misunderstandings and all sorts of things that a decent sub would prevent getting into the paper in the first place.
Independent Number 1

Edition Number One – 1986

So, the last Independent on Sunday has already gone. And Saturday 26 March will be the last weekday Indie. It held true to its much-admired original strapline for most of its life. Be nice if the same could be said of me.

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