The world into which The Independent on Sunday was launched on 28 January 1990 was in some respects very different to our own, and in other ways strikingly similar. Back then, there was still enormous confidence in the future of newspapers, and the IoS was launched on a wave of optimism, as The Independent had been more than three years earlier, when I had played a role as one of its founders. But it also came into the world as the worst advertising recession in living memory was getting under way, playing havoc with our financial projections.
The new paper was intended to be as revolutionary as its daily sibling. It had only three sections in a market characterised by gigantism: an upmarket, broadsheet news section; a tabloid business section with a magazine-like front page; and a review supplement. This third section, known as The Sunday Review, has largely survived. Printed on high-quality newsprint, it enjoyed much later deadlines than rivals' colour supplements. In many ways, it was the heart of the paper.
Among the 80 or so journalists who worked exclusively for the Sindy, we had assembled an impressive array of established journalists (such as Sebastian Faulks, Stephen Fay, Chris Huhne, Francis Wheen, Ian Jack, Neal Ascherson, Peter Wilby, Lynn Barber, Blake Morrison) and young talent (including Allison Pearson, Robert Peston, Andrew Gimson and Zoë Heller).
But however hard one tries, it is not possible to launch a newspaper fully formed. As the daily had done, the Sindy took several months to find its true character. After selling 760,000 copies of its first issue, the paper lost circulation week by week, as was expected, before "bottoming out" at 320,000 in the summer. Thereafter, sales rose steadily until, buoyed by interest in the impending Gulf War, they reached 425,000 in January 1991.
No doubt we made mistakes. Notwithstanding the excellence of the Review, the paper should have had a colour supplement, but we could not afford one. Timing was not brilliant. Our thinking had been that the Sunday Correspondent (which had launched a few months before the Sindy, but was forced to close in November 1990) was stealing our clothes, and if we did not launch a Sunday newspaper then, we might never be able to do so.
As the recession deepened, so losses climbed on the Sindy, despite its impressive circulation gains. Cutbacks were inevitable, and colleagues on the daily argued these could be achieved only if the main departments of the papers were brought together under the same editorial control. I believed there were more creative ways of making savings. Integration was adopted, though soon reversed.
I think that most of us who worked on this newspaper in its early days were proud of what we achieved. The Independent on Sunday took itself seriously – perhaps a little too much so. It was intended to be a writers' paper that respected readers. With all the fervour of evangelists who want to reshape the world, we felt we had restored some integrity to Sunday journalism.
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