The decline and fall of The Independent

If you consider yourself of the leftwing persuasion and want a high-brow newspaper, you'll take The Guardian; its opposite number, identifying more firmly with the Tories than Guardianistas do with Labour, would be The Daily Telegraph. At the bottom end of the scale (well, just above The Daily Star) would be The Sun for the right and The Daily Mirror for the Left. The middle-brow for the right can choose between The Daily Mail and The Daily Express, which I know is like choosing between syphilis and cholera.

The middle-brow gap on the left has been filled, it would seem, by the Independent. I hope it does not try to ape the Express or the Mail; there can be good news coverage without being as dry as the FT. As it happens, I agree with Jeremy Paxman about the Indie - "if any paper chooses not to be part of the pack, it’s the Indie". Although the Indie is not running with the pack, it can still be headed over an unfortunate cliff. I rather suspect that Mr Blair's attack on the Indie is because of its rather trenchant attacks on the former PM, particularly as it is a non-Tory newspaper. A point that both Blair and Paxman have made is the need to separate hard news reporting, features and opinion. Unfortunately, the Independent frequently puts Robert Fisk on the front page.

Fisk is a serious journalist and one of the few westerners to have had a media interview with Osama bin Laden (in fact, on three occasions, in 93, 96 and 97, which suggests that he'd cottoned on to the man's importance before the formation of the Bin Laden Issue Station in 96); his writing is engaging, polemical and usually pretty factual. It is, though, his personal account; Fisk is on record as not believing it possible to be objective, and that therefore you should be subjective as a reporter. While it might be very worthy of the feature section and his opinions perfect for the later pages, it should not be at the front of a newspaper.

The perception is made worse amongst bloggers because of the verb 'to fisk'; I don't think it's entered mainstream usage, though.

The Guardian has been doing very well out of an imagined community built around Comment is Free and it has influence beyond the number of its readers, as does the Telegraph; the Sun has sheer weight of numbers and both it and the Mirror have the advantage of speaking to the perceived bases of the Labour and Tory parties. It is no surprise that I consider the Mail and the Express to be execrable, but not just for their jingoistic, occasionally factless, rabble-rousing 'news', but because their journalists are not - in my opinion - as good as those on the Sun or the Mirror; they are stuck in their mindsets and ways with no appreciation for that situation and no desire to leave it1.

It might be possible for the Independent to have more of a magazine feel about it and still have a purpose as a daily newspaper; however, it seems to be going the way of the Mail and the Express with features such as 'Personality: What makes you the way you are?' which has the ominous line:
What kind of personality are you? Take this test to discover the truth.
The truth about my personality? I thought that was why I had a psychiatrist...

That article featured not in the magazine or review, but in the run-of-paper. My objection - and I'm rather sad about this, because the Independent used to be my newspaper of choice - is that you are not going to get a serious psychological analysis from a daily newspaper that costs seventy pence and that people who look for serious psychological analysis from a seventy pence daily newspaper are not going to give you the weight of the Guardian, particularly when the market is cornered by the Express and the Mail.


1 - Yes, Melanie Phillips. Having changed once your political position does not mean you will change again. I've heard it said that journos for the Sun are the best in the business and grasp stories more quickly than anyone else. That may be so; however, it seems to me (in my admittedly limited experience) that they grasp the story sufficiently for them to be able to write a story on it - the in-depth knowledge is not there and their news reporting is not factual. Equally, a newspaper is not just the factual reporting. Compare the comment and analysis in a tabloid to that in a broadsheet; compare the letters pages.

PS: An interesting link:

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