The Independent. It isn't any more. Are you?
So FAREWELL THEN, The Independent. By the time this article appears, we will know the fate of the ailing newspaper. At the time of writing, the most likely outcome of the talks about its fate would seem to be the paper's absorption by the Mirror Group which would buy a 40 per cent stake in the Independent's publishing company, Newspaper Publishing. Maybe it will be renamed the semiIndependent, or the quasi-Independent. Whatever happens, it will be the end of Andreas Whittam-Smith's big but woefully short adventure.
Perhaps we should not be too surprised. After all, the Indic has only gone the way of many of its illustrious predecessors. The Times and the Observer, to name but two, equally failed to last the course as independent publishing ventures. The difference is that they both lasted over 100 years before succumbing to the same grinding logic of the market-place. The Independent, by way of contrast, lasted only seven years.
So what went wrong? With the introduction of new technology in the mid-1980s the sky seemed to be the limit for new newspapers, which could now produce a product at a competitive price by dispensing with the services of the notoriously over-paid print workers. For a time, the Independent seemed to be set fair; in the second half of the 1980s the paper could pose, successfully, as a highminded attempt to rise above the seedy mosaic of page 3 girls, royal tittle-tattle and Bernard Ingham's triumphalist press briefings that passed for news in the Murdoch and Maxwell press.
The paper was launched as a reaction against the worst excesses of the Thatcherite era, and worked very well in that context. The Independent was, in truth, very much a creature of its time the mid-1980s Thatcherite Britain and has simply failed to adapt and survive in a subtly but profoundly different Britain of the mid-1990s.
The paper's crucial failing was that it lacked a sense of humour; not for
nothing did it earn the soubriquet of the Indescribablyboring in Private Eye. As long as Murdoch and Maxwell indulged in the more ludicrous excesses of tabloid journalism (and I include The Times and the Sunday Times here) I was prepared to overlook this. As a reader, I could console myself with the thought that at least the paper was worthy, in the sense that it aspired to some standards of journalistic integrity.
But now it seems that just as Ben Elton needed Mrs Thatcher to succeed as a stand-up comic, so the Independent needed Bernard Ingham, Captain Bob and Kelvin McKenzie to succeed as a serious newspaper. All those jokers have now departed the scene, and what once seemed worthy is now merely dull.
The paper had not wit or humour to fall back on, and retreated into a remote ghetto of "serious" news that reminded me of the pre-Conrad Black Daily Telegraph which famously reported Elizabeth Taylor's comment on one of her visits to Britain during the 1960s with the headline: Liz Taylor: "I Feel Like A Million (£135,000) Dollars". As with the Independent, there comes a point when such scrupulousness becomes ridiculous. The Independent was originally aimed at people like me, and I, like many other people I know, ceased being regular readers of the paper several years ago. For myself, I have returned to the Guardian and always turn to the "passnotes" in the tabloid section first. It is now a paper that manages to combine integrity with wit which is the best combination.
Much of the fault for the unreadability of the Independent can be laid at the door of St Andreas Whittam Smith. Sadly he has become an anachronism, as has his paper. I earnestly hope that the Independent survives in some form, but in order to prosper in the future and attract me back as a reader I hope the new owners of the paper wish the editor a happy retirement and that he can pick up his well-deserved knighthood with a clear conscience.