The Indy celebrates 25 years with commemorative edition
The Independent celebrates its 25th anniversary with a commemorative edition today, featuring a personal account of how the newspaper began from founding editor, Andreas Whittam Smith.
Launched in 1986, when the Cold War was still very much an ongoing concern, no one could have envisaged the quality daily would turn a quarter of a century years old owned by a former street fighting KGB spy turned billionaire, with a new editor and daily print sibling in tow.
From playing a key role in the Spycatcher affair in 1987, to being the lone opposition to the Iraq war on the newsstands in 2003, the daily paper has carved out a role for itself as a free-thinking alternative read.
Over the years it has had to defend itself from many quarters, and was famously singled out for public criticism as a "viewspaper" in June 2007 by then Prime Minister Tony Blair.
Today, Whittam Smith writes: "On its 25th birthday, The Independent faces the future with just the same mixture of optimism and understandable worries as when the first issue appeared. It's been like that all the way along.
"But when the newspaper was launched, our apprehension was of a special kind. For starting a new business is an act of faith as well as calculation. The outcome of what I call the entrepreneurial leap is simply unknowable.
"It doesn't matter how much research you have done, how excellent the team is that has been assembled, how many trial runs you have conducted: you still have no idea where you will land."
Bringing innovation to the market
The Indy contentiously ranks among its achievements as being the first to carry "regular, specialised coverage of health, education, the media or the workplace".
What is undisputed is how, in 2003, led by editor Simon Kelner, it was the first quality British newspaper to launch as a compact format. The move was derided by some but soon imitated both in the UK and overseas.
In 2010, as a newspaper positioning itself free from party political bias, it launched a national campaign around the general election to encourage the public to vote without regard for the leanings of media moguls.
A series of promotional ads in the paper assuring readers "Rupert Murdoch won't decide this election. You will", are believed to have directly led to the incredible spectacle of News International's James Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks striding onto The Indy's editorial floor to have an angry exchange with Kelner.
One wonders what would have happened if Lebedev, who had only bought the paper the previous month, had been present at The Indy at the time. Just last month, the Russian was caught in a televised attack of a fellow panellist and opponent, having made the decision he needed to be "neutralised".
However, since Lebedev acquired The Indy last March his promise of a light touch, hands off approach to the paper appears to have been honoured, and innovatation has continued, most notably with the launch of its sister paper, i.
Carrying content from The Independent, the 20p i is the UK's only concise quality newspaper and first national to be launched since The Indy itself.
The publisher has been quick to promote that the combined circulation of the two papers (371,547) places it ahead of their closest competitor, The Guardian - outselling it by more than 130,000 copies - however the jury's out over the long-term impact the move will have on the more expensive Indy.
Digital expansion is firmly on the cards in the immediate future, with plans to boost its website and build on its smartphone app's 100,000 monthly downloads.
Chris Blackhurst, who became The Indy's new editor in July 2011, said: "From the moment it was launched a quarter century ago, The Independent has changed the face of the British newspaper industry.
"That contribution has endured throughout its 25 year history, and it’s an enormous privilege to be taking it on the next steps of what is still a remarkable journey."
How Alexander Lebedev became owner of The Independent
- 24 March 2010 - The Independent will be sold to Lebedev "within 24 hours"
- 9 March 2010 - Lebedev's purchase of Indy nears completion
- 25 Feb 2010 - Lebedev begins OFT clearance for acquisition of Independents
- 25 Feb 2010 - Alexander Lebedev registers Independent Print Ltd at Companies House
- 17 Feb 2010 - IN&M at loggerheads with staff over sale conditions to Lebedev
- 18 Dec 2009 - IN&M paves way for Lebedev acquisition
- 18 Dec 2009 - IN&M confirms exclusive acquisition talks with Lebedev
- 16 June 2009 - Independent sale believed to hinge on worldwide editorial rights
- 11 June 2009 - Media Week reports that Lebedev is set to buy The Independent
- 28 April 2009 - Anthony O'Reilly hunts for buyers for The Independent
- 20 April 2009 - IN&M mulls possible sale of The Independent
- 2 March 2009 - Independent staff plan strike action over redundancies
- 27 Jan 2009 - Independent titles up for grabs as IN&M seeks debt relief
- 7 Oct 1986 - The Independent launched with Andreas Whittam-Smith as editor
Follow Arif Durrani on Twitter @DurraniMix
This article was first published on mediaweek.co.uk
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