New owners pledge expansion for `Independent'

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The Independent Online
THE Independent and Independent on Sunday were bought yesterday by Ireland's Independent Newspapers, which pledged immediately to invest heavily in Britain's youngest broadsheets and to set their sights on a sophisticated, up-market readership.

Rosie Boycott, editor of the two papers, will form an American-style working partnership with Andrew Marr, who has returned as editor-in-chief with special responsibility for the comment pages, after leaving the editor's chair last month.

In America, broadsheet newspapers are traditionally run in this way. Ben Bradlee, the legendary former Washington Post journalist who will be joining the board of Independent Newspapers, believes the concept can be transplanted to Britain. "The principle is well established in the US and I believe it makes for very healthy journalism," he said, noting that he was never actually "editor" of the Washington Post. His title was "executive editor".

Mr Bradlee will be joined on the board by Chris Patten, the former Hong Kong Governor, Baroness Helena Kennedy QC, Andreas Whittam-Smith, The Independent's founder and Tony O'Reilly, head of Independent Newspapers.

Dr O'Reilly is the largest individual shareholder in the Irish group and until recently he was chief executive of the food giant Heinz. His company bought the 46 per cent stake in the Independent titles held by Mirror Group and the holdings of other minority shareholders.

The commitment to expansion was warmly welcomed by Ms Boycott. She said: "For the first time in a long time we have a really secure future. I cannot wait for it to begin." Mr Marr echoed her sentiments: "I never believed in my wildest dreams that this was going to happen. I have hoped and prayed for this for a very long time."

Announcing the deal in the City yesterday, Brendan Hopkins, who becomes managing director of Independent Newspapers UK, said: "This is a historic day... We've been waiting a long time for this."

The Dublin-based international media group first acquired a 25 per cent share- holding in the Independent titles in 1994, later upping its stake to 46 per cent. This put it on an equal footing with the Mirror Group, which moved the titles from City Road to its corporate headquarters at Canary Wharf in London's Docklands. The papers will remain there.

"The Independent is not dumbing down," Mr Hopkins pledged. "We'll be going into the market to recruit the cream of UK journalists to write for the only true independent UK title. We'll show how we can get hold of some of the best journalists in town."