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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Life and Style
Fans line up at the AVNs, straining to capture a photo of their favourite star
life Tim Walker asks how much longer it can flesh out an existence
Life and Style
Every minute of every day, Twitter is awash with anger as we seek to let these organisations know precisely what we think of them
techWhen it comes to vitriol, no one on attracts our ire more than big businesses offering bad service
Professor David Nutt wants to change the way gravely ill patients are treated in Britain
people Why does a former Government tsar believe that mind-altering drugs have a place on prescription?
Norway’s ‘The Nordland Line – Minute by Minute, Season by Season’ continues the trend of slow TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Jonny Evans has pleaded not guilty to an FA charge for spitting at Papiss Cisse
Life and Style
Kate Moss will make a cameo appearance in David Walliams' The Boy in the Dress
The image released by the Salvation Army, using 'The Dress'
Liverpool defender Kolo Toure
football Defender could make history in the FA Cup, but African Cup of Nations win means he's already content
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Ashdown Group: Digital Marketing Executive - West London - £35,000

£28000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A luxury fashion retailer based in W...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer / Front-End Designer - City of London

£27000 - £33000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End Devel...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Ledger & Credit Control Assistant

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Ledger & Credit Control...

Recruitment Genius: Junior PHP Web Developer

£16000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans campaign: Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after £300,000 gift from Lloyds Bank

Homeless Veterans campaign

Donations hit record-breaking £1m target after huge gift from Lloyds Bank
Flight MH370 a year on: Lost without a trace – but the search goes on

Lost without a trace

But, a year on, the search continues for Flight MH370
Germany's spymasters left red-faced after thieves break into brand new secret service HQ and steal taps

Germany's spy HQ springs a leak

Thieves break into new €1.5bn complex... to steal taps
International Women's Day 2015: Celebrating the whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Whirlwind wit of Simone de Beauvoir

Simone de Beauvoir's seminal feminist polemic, 'The Second Sex', has been published in short-form for International Women's Day
Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Mark Zuckerberg’s hiring policy might suit him – but it wouldn’t work for me

Why would I want to employ someone I’d be happy to have as my boss, asks Simon Kelner
Confessions of a planespotter: With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent

Confessions of a planespotter

With three Britons under arrest in the UAE, the perils have never been more apparent. Sam Masters explains the appeal
Russia's gulag museum 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities

Russia's gulag museum

Ministry of Culture-run site 'makes no mention' of Stalin's atrocities
The big fresh food con: Alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay

The big fresh food con

Joanna Blythman reveals the alarming truth behind the chocolate muffin that won't decay
Virginia Ironside was my landlady: What is it like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7?

Virginia Ironside was my landlady

Tim Willis reveals what it's like to live with an agony aunt on call 24/7
Paris Fashion Week 2015: The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp

Paris Fashion Week 2015

The wit and wisdom of Manish Arora's exercise in high camp
8 best workout DVDs

8 best workout DVDs

If your 'New Year new you' regime hasn’t lasted beyond February, why not try working out from home?
Paul Scholes column: I don't believe Jonny Evans was spitting at Papiss Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible

Paul Scholes column

I don't believe Evans was spitting at Cissé. It was a reflex. But what the Newcastle striker did next was horrible
Miguel Layun interview: From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

From the Azteca to Vicarage Road with a million followers

Miguel Layun is a star in Mexico where he was criticised for leaving to join Watford. But he says he sees the bigger picture
Frank Warren column: Amir Khan ready to meet winner of Floyd Mayweather v Manny Pacquiao

Khan ready to meet winner of Mayweather v Pacquiao

The Bolton fighter is unlikely to take on Kell Brook with two superstar opponents on the horizon, says Frank Warren
War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable