For better, for worse: 'Why I have worked for The Independent for 25 years'

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Only seven of the journalists involved in the paper's launch have remained employed by it ever since. John Lichfield is one of them...

They left. We didn't. Of the original journalistic staff of The Independent, only a half-dozen of us remain. Ambition, opportunity, promotion, career change, maternity, redundancy, retirement, sickness and death have carried off the rest.

That is normal. It is rare for a journalist to stay with one newspaper for many years. The profession is restless and curious by nature. I am, therefore, unusual. It is for me to explain why I became a "lifer" at The Independent.

I have worked under five proprietors (or ownership structures) and eight editors in the past 25 years. Since 1986, there have been nine foreign editors, including, briefly, me.

I joined from The Scotsman. The only other 1986 recruit from that newspaper was a promising young man called Andrew Marr. I began as West Europe editor, covering the European Union with David Usborne, who also went on to become an Independent lifer. I became US correspondent, deputy foreign editor, foreign editor and, since 1997, Paris correspondent.

I could be accused, I suppose, of being a journalistic vicar of Bray. ( "And this is what I will maintain/ Until my dying day, sir,/ That whatsoever editor shall reign,/ I'll be allowed to stay, sir.") But the vicar of Bray was a professional conformist: a man who changed his beliefs with every new king or queen. I have adjusted, I hope, to the style of different editors, but I have never felt under pressure to conform. It is to the enormous credit of all those editors and proprietors that I have never been told – not once in 25 years – what I should think or what I should write. I do not wish to suggest that The Independent is the only British newspaper where that could have been possible. There are many excellent, honest journalists on other titles. All the same, much of British journalism – even in the so-called upper market – is written to serve or confirm the world view of the newspaper or its proprietor or the assumed prejudices of its readership.

Not this one. I have never felt that there is an overbearing Independent "angle" or "world view" or "ideology" that I have had to feed or flatter. I have never felt under pressure, spoken or unspoken, to follow a political line or to confirm the prejudice of a typical Independent reader.

It is my impression, from emails and letters and meetings, that there is no "typical Independent reader".

I have occasionally had offers from other newspapers. I did once almost leave in a huff. Charlie Wilson (Independent editor No 3) took the view in 1996 that I was not designed to be a foreign editor but should be a reporter or writer. I knew that he was right but I was still upset and wanted to go. He and Simon Kelner (later Independent editor No 6) persuaded me to stay.

I also quarrelled mildly with my old Scotsman colleague Marr when he was Independent editor No 4. I thought that he was trying to change the newspaper into a daily commentary on the news, a collection of columns and essays. I now realise that he was ahead of his time. It is rarely good to be ahead of your time. At any rate, it was Marr who sent me to Paris. Four other editors have kept me there for nearly 15 years. To work for a British newspaper that takes a wry interest in what is both good and bad in France has been a privilege and a delight. How could anyone leave a job like that?

I have survived many changes of style and format. We have been extremely serious; we have been less serious; we have tried to appeal to the middle market; we have tried to head back upmarket.

I have not always been comfortable with the choices. But I have never felt the honest and independent character of the newspaper has been threatened. Nor have I felt under pressure to bow to some notional "neutrality" or "independence" or absence of political line. I believe this newspaper's title gives me the freedom to reach my own conclusions. It also gives our readers the freedom to reject them. All journalism is selective and therefore opinionated, but there is a difference between honest bias and dishonest bias. An unbiased article contains enough information to allow the reader to disagree with the writer.

In the early days of The Independent, my friend Edward Steen, then East Europe editor, pinned up a Polish cartoon. It showed a pair of hands reaching out from a newspaper to seize a reader by the throat. Despite the many changes over the years, I have always felt proud to work for The Independent.

This has seldom been the kind of newspaper that tried to grip its readers by their throats.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
News
A photo of Charles Belk being detained by police on Friday 22 August
news
News
news
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Management Accountant

£30-35k + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Management Accoun...

UI Designer / UX Designer

£40 - 60k + Amazing Benefits: Guru Careers: A UI Designer / UX Designer is nee...

SEO Manager / SEO Expert / Head of Search

£30 - 35k: Guru Careers: An SEO Manager / SEO Expert is needed to join an inno...

Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

£30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?