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The vanishing newspaper

Britain’s The Independent newspaper has announced the end of its print edition

The vanishing newspaper

Dear All,

Last month the owners of British newspaper The Independent announced that the paper’s print edition would cease in March. It was a sad moment: a confirmation of the much articulated view that the supremacy of the printed newspaper is a thing of the past and that the Internet and digital media may just have rendered the newspaper irrelevant.

The Independent was started in October 1986 by three senior ex-Daily Telegraph journalists (Andreas Whittam Smith, Steven Glover and Matthew Symonds). It aimed to be an independent voice and it proved to be a pioneering paper: the first British broadsheet to move to a compact tabloid style format, the first to use dramatic news photographs in a new and bold manner — often across almost its entire front page, and the first to be produced entirely using computer technology.

It was free of the commercial pressures of the Murdoch media and the political biases of the other well-established broadsheets And for a few years it dominated the media landscape, giving the older papers a run for their money and setting the standard for innovation, modernisation and editorial and journalistic excellence.

But alas, as it so happens with journalist founded publications, the venture ran into financial problems and was bought out several times until its latest owner (Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev) took it over six years ago. At its peak The Independent’s circulation had topped 450,000 but it now had dropped to only about 40,000. When the end of the print edition was announced the paper attempted to put a positive spin on the move, pointing out that it was Britain’s “first national newspaper title to move to a digital-only future”, as if to say it was moving into the future, but the fact was that the owners had concluded that the print edition was just not viable.

The Guardian declared that ‘the Indy’ (as it was often called) was ‘a newspaper killed off by the Internet’. And indeed the demise of The Independent’s print edition confirmed the modern view that the traditional model of the daily newspaper is too rigid and too expensive to survive. The questions that this raises are the questions all of us in journalism have been asking since the end of the twentieth century: what is the role of news journalism and traditional journalists in this age of social media and online news-on-tap?

For many owners and managers the solution has been to dumb down news: to treat quirky YouTube content as news, to treat sidelights, highlights and features relevant to news stories as The Story rather than part of The (news) Story. The role of the editor has been undermined and devalued and tweeters, facebookers and YouTubers have started to be regarded as more important than reporters, news hounds or people with editorial judgement or vision.

But just as we were all lamenting the (seemingly inevitable) demise of The Independent, we were informed of a new entrant to the market: a weekday daily owned by Daily Mirror group titled The New Day. This new paper was launched last Monday, was free on the first day, will initially cost 25p and then eventually 50p (compared to the Daily Mail at 60p, Daily Mirror at 40p or The Guardian at £1.80 and The Telegraph at £1.40).

Reviews of the paper have been kind but The New Day actually looks like it is the magazine section of a newspaper rather than a newspaper. It looks nice — a turquoise blue banner and clean layouts — but I’m not sure why one would buy it. It doesn’t have news leaders or editorials and the editor claims that paper will be “upbeat and optimistic and free of political bias, unlike most tabloid rivals”. It will also, unusually, have no website.

In effect it’s an upbeat, anodyne magazine masquerading as a newspaper.

Best wishes

Umber Khairi

The author is a former BBC broadcaster and producer, and one of the founding editors of Newsline.

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