The death of the printed newspaper came a step closer today with the news that The Independent and Independent on Sunday’s print editions are to close next month.
The Independent was Britain’s first new broadsheet paper for a generation in 1986. But it has been struggling for years. Its early success was torpedoed by a hubristic decision to launch a Sunday edition to compete with the highly regarded, but short-lived, Sunday Correspondent. Later, Rupert Murdoch’s price war cut even deeper.
I found the daily paper rather dull, but loved the Saturday edition in the late 1980s. (The Independent was one of the first to recognise that Saturday would become a day for leisurely reading of a multi-section paper, as Sunday had been for years.) An excellent magazine helped. In time, The Guardian, its closest rival, took the hint and created a worthy Saturday rival.
As I blogged a decade ago on the Indie’s 20th anniversary, 1986 saw two new British national newspapers. Eddy Shah’s Today was more significant in many ways, as it helped break the power of the print unions. (Papers in the 1980s were desperately trying to introduce ‘new technology’ – technology that papers overseas had used for years, but the British print unions had fought to kill.) Three decades later, those battles over print technology seem like a tale from ancient history. We now get our news online. And The Independent is simply the first major news group in Britain to abandon Gutenberg for Google.
Print is in my family’s blood. My grandfather was a linotype (literally: line of type) operator at the Western Mail in Cardiff. He was proud of his craft. Mum and Dad were both journalists, and Mum took Dad’s job on the Penarth Times when he joined the army during the second world war. Dad showed me round his other paper, the South Wales Argus, soon after it moved into a new home in Newport in the early 1970s. I grew up with the excitement of the deadline and the buzz of breaking news. Family dinner parties were like a newspaper morning conference, with editors such as the South Wales Echo’s legendary Geoff Rich and the Western Mail’s Duncan Gardiner giving me valuable lessons in news and politics.
Back to The Independent. Its website put a positive spin today on the death of the print edition: it said it was the first national to embrace a digital-only future. Time will tell if the paper – if we can still call it that – has a digital future.