Here’s to the next 30 years of The Independent, as well as the last. We’ve come a long way since that first edition, a black-and-white broadsheet, rolled off the presses in the early hours of Tuesday 7 October 1986. Reading again that front page, framed on the wall of our offices, it’s hard to resist the inevitable observation: the world too has changed so much in three decades.
“Missile tube blast sank Soviet sub”, reads one headline. The foreign summary adds: “Kasparov wins world title in Leningrad, page 8” (Leningrad!). There is, though, an uncanny familiarity to the splash (written by one Andrew Marr): “Conservatives try to halt sterling slide”. So much seems like history, and yet there are some things that have remained the same. The same could be said of The Independent.
It is a little over six months since the last edition of the newspaper was printed. This wasn’t the only occasion when our critics announced the end of The Independent – nor the only time they got that part so wrong. Where once we had a paper read by thousands, The Independent is now read by millions, on our own website and apps as well as a sometimes dizzying array of other platforms, from Apple News to Google Newsstand and Facebook Instant Articles.
Our readership has soared since we decided to focus on the future. The internationalism of our title (I think it was the foreign news that first set the Indy apart for me) has spawned a global following. Our UK readership is matched in the US, where we are now the sixth biggest newspaper website. No doubt the day will come – and soon – when our journalism reaches more hearts and minds in America than in Britain. This eagle has spread its wings.
The job of a journalist here has changed too. Our commentators answer readers’ questions live on video, streamed to hundreds of thousands of viewers tuning in via Facebook. We tell more stories through data than ever, and unlike the graphics that were a mainstay of Independent front pages a decade ago (for we have always been ahead of this curve), these new charts and maps invite you to click and tap to discover more. We think long and hard about how to tell complicated stories on smartphone screens, where the majority now see our work. There was no social media strategy in 1986 – Mark Zuckerberg was two years old when The Independent was born – but now we are a dominant voice of news and views globally on Facebook and Twitter.
If you’re reading this as part of The Independent Daily Edition, then you’re on our newest major platform. We have more paying subscribers now than when were still in print – and fewer complaints about newsagents selling out before lunchtime. Editorials on page two, business in the middle, sport at the back – there’s a lot that’s familiar about our “virtual newspaper”. Let’s not name the media pundits who called us in the weeks following the last print edition, asking how come there were still front pages of the “paper” appearing on the TV news reviews. Sometimes the future looks very much like the past.
It’s important for us all to remember our past, to focus on what has not changed and must never change. The new generation of start-ups didn’t take a stance on the Iraq War, or campaign for decades about climate change, or foresee the rise of Isis. It is in our blood to ask politicians awkward questions, land scoops and expose corruption, just as we will always try to entertain as we explain an ever more complicated world.
So how do we steer a course into the future? As hundreds of thousands of readers around the world discover us for the first time, we will remember what sets The Independent apart, and what keeps them coming back. Our guiding principles have not changed, and they have never been so relevant or so needed: an absolute rejection of party political ties and spin, a total commitment to honesty, a heartfelt empathy with people of every creed and colour around the world, a deep-set belief in progressive, liberal values, and passion. This was never a newspaper that made sense without the passion. The Independent is always changing (are you?) but it’s our enduring principles that will define us over the next 30 years.
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