So how independent
is it? Well, fairly much still, though it's now wholly controlled by a magnate
, whereas The Guardian
is run by a trust. But the magnate's rule seems to be quite benign
and has brought stability to it after terrible struggles that threatened to destroy it.
It was begun as a cooperative by journalists. Its first little loss of independence was when it asked for support from other respected papers across the world, El País, La Repubblica, and the Chicago Tribune. These each got a small share, about 5%. After it continued to have financial problems, it opened up more of its stock and other newspapers moved in, including, worryingly, the Mirror Group. These sharks then proceeded to acquire more than 50%, and that's when the rationalizations and the bloodletting of editors and correspondents became vicious, and from which it has still not recovered. The Mirror Group's rivals were Independent Newspapers, a small empire headed by the Irish tycoon Tony O'Reilly. Finally, O'Reilly took over 100% control, rescuing it from the degradation of having to work with Mirror hacks and sharing their presses. This is the stable situation now prevailing.
He already had a newspaper The Irish Independent so the name of his company was no relation to the new British newspaper, and he also had the title The Sunday Independent, which is why the British one had to use the title The Independent on Sunday when they launched their own Sunday paper. Before they launched this they had besmirched their name by descending like a vulture on an even newer paper, The Sunday Correspondent. This was another go at a liberal and independent competitor to The Observer. As I recall, The Observer gorged itself on the corpse when the Correspondent fell to its combined assailants.
Over the years it's suffered under especial attacks from Rupert Murdoch, who wants to see it destroyed. He has repeatedly published The Times at a large discount for weeks at a time to try to grab market share, and The Independent have taken him to court to stop this predatory pricing, but without much success.
One thing that has been very consistent with it, on top of its moderate, liberal line on issues generally, is its committedly pro-European stance.
It is referred to affectionately as the Indy or Indie. Private Eye calls it The Indescribablyboring, and it is they (I think) who constantly refer to its founding editor as the saintly Andreas. He is much respected, and later headed the British Board of Film Classification. His main partner in founding the paper, Stephen Glover, later split from the venture and now fulminates against it in any publication that'll give him space. The saintly Andreas still occasionally writes for them.
Ian Hargreaves was the second editor. The worthy political reporter Andrew Marr came after him, and was removed, and restored, and made co-editor with Rosie Boycott, and they were both removed, in the series of coups launched by the Mirrortary junta. The present editor is one Simon Kelner, but they have stopped putting the editor's name on the editorial page. In these purges they lost too many good writers: I particular bemoan the defection of Polly Toynbee and their architecture correspondent Jonathan Glancey to The Guardian. Recently David Aaronovich decamped to The Observer. Of the best writers, I think only Robert Fisk is left; I don't look forward to any of the others now with such confidence of enjoyment as I used to.
Bridget Jones first came to life in the Indy: her calamitous, witty, endearing columns with that characteristic dark picture of a desirable young lady, half turned away, glass and fag in hand, became a quiet favourite before the book was launched and Helen Fielding was lured away to The Daily Telegraph, where she could no longer write about emotional fuckwittage.
They've never been much for strip cartoons, though they did have Alex before he went downmarket and jumped to the Telegraph. They carry no syndications, and have commissioned one of two of indifferent quality. The current one is called As If, by Sally Ann Lasson, an often amusing look at the battle of the sexes. There was one truly dire one about a television reporter, the only good strip of which was the final one where he was assassinated in an explosion set off by an Independent reader: so at least they had the honesty to see it wasn't working. However, the editorial cartoons have often been very good, strong and intelligent.
Photojournalism has always been a strong point, and good photography generally. They used to be good at design too, and have had some very bold front pages. But amid the turmoils in the editor's chair have been numerous redesigns, diminishing their former use of superb typography, until now it is a bland typeface that is no longer very distinct from that of The Times or Telegraph. Their overuse of sans-serif is idiosyncratic and misjudged.
In late 2003 they took the bold step of simultaneously publishing a tabloid version, the same content but rearranged into something more easily read on buses and trains. It must have been successful, for The Times followed suit. Pretty soon they dropped the broadsheet version.
On line at www.independent.co.uk
More on its history at www.browneyedsheep.com/independentnews&mediaUKco.htm