After the jokes, it's down to the real business of editing

Janet Street-Porter, the new editor of this paper, answers her critics and says what's in store
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The Independent Online

isten, it's flattering to be talked about; but this is ridiculous. When you turn up as the subject of leader columns in the editorial pages of two national newspapers, it means things have got well out of perspective. Since I was appointed editor of the Independent on Sunday last Wednesday, I've read a lot of conflicting responses, received many kind words of encouragement and been swamped by a flood of snobbish and sexist abuse from the more puerile end of Fleet Street.

The Daily Telegraph called the appointment "primarily a marketing exercise" and "the most spectacular act of dumbing down in media history". Kelvin MacKenzie, the one-time editor (who hasn't himself been asked to edit anything for several years), said that I "couldn't edit a bus ticket", failing to realise that bus tickets don't usually need editing. The Guardian, in its amusing way, suggested that the next step would be for "Tara Palmer- Tomkinson to succeed Cardinal Hume or Mel B [sic] to become the next commissioner of the Metropolitan Police".

Guys, guys. Calm down. I can take a joke (and if you don't believe me, look what Wallace Arnold has to say about me below - just one of the many displays of wit and brilliance that Sindy readers have come to expect in these pages). I don't mind a little criticism. Sticks and stones will break my bones, but words are things I'm well used to. Especially harsh words. When you've been criticised, over the years, for the most personal things - the way you look, the way you sound, your voice, your teeth, your dress sense, your management style, your relationships, even your hobbies - you develop a tough skin and mostly don't retaliate. But it is a little disappointing to be taken for a goggle-eyed harridan with big teeth and no brain after spending 30-odd years in journalism, both the print and broadcast varieties, and picking up a whole sideboard of prizes including a Bafta and the Prix Italia. Experience? Where do I start? I was a Daily Mail columnist at 21, an Evening Standard columnist at 23, and contributed to BBC radio's Start the Week and The World At One. Over the past 15 years I've written opinion pieces for the Times and Telegraph, travel pieces for the Times and Observer, style features for Harpers and Vogue, and book reviews for the Sunday Times. I've written about restaurants, fine arts, rambling, the countryside and architecture. I've even produced a 19th-century opera - The Vampyr. I have, as they say, been around.

You might know me better as a producer of hundreds of television shows over 20 years - from Network 7 to The Full Wax. As an executive producer I was responsible for dozens of mainstream shows from This Is Your ife to Great Railway Journeys. I've created series about belief, travel, and dance music, and presented political programmes. I've interviewed the famous and infamous, from Will Self to Ted Heath, from Blondie to Ann Widdecombe. But - I can hear the self-appointed media watchdogs saying - these are only TV shows. Not the sacred art of journalism.

But how do people think these programmes get dreamed up and made? What are they but expressions of modern artistry and style, or investigations and explorations of (or discussions and confrontations with) the modern world, all of them conceived with imagination and carried out, I hope, with flair. They're nothing to do with "dumbing down" or "yoof", or with any of the silly reductive terminologies I've been saddled with.

The reaction of the media village to my appointment has been, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the rage of Caliban seeing his own shortcomings in the mirror. Newspaper editors, according to some unwritten rule, have got to be of a certain stamp, to have been educated in certain places, put their time in on this desk or that one, worked their passage, paid their dues, showed respect for their roots. If you come in from a different medium, it seems you don't count - even if you've spent years in journalism and related trades, coming up with ideas, commissioning, writing, editing, and dealing with the flak and the firestorms that result. There is no room, the rules say, for a Janet of All Trades....

Well now there is. From next Sunday, I shall be putting my mark on the Independent on Sunday, and eclecticism will be the keynote. All trades, so to speak, will find themselves reflected in the pages of a newspaper I already admire for its individuality and style. I don't believe in compartmentalism. A multicultural society needs a polymorphous journal, and that is what we shall be: all-encompassing, tolerant in our sympathies, generous in our coverage, wide in our understanding. We shall look at culture, not as divided into rarefied "high" and despicable "low", but as a multi-leaved flower. Just as I wouldn't find it odd to go to the Proms and listen to Schnittke, then come home and put on a Pet Shop Boys CD, so this newspaper will not be afraid to deal equally with all heights of brow.

A Sunday newspaper is the perfect forum for the eclectic approach I have in mind. It's a paper that lives with you all day - not always urgently delivering the news but allowing you to make sense of what's happened in the past seven days, and look forward to what the next have in store, to think about your life and how it could be improved. I want to bring the news to the Sunday breakfast table, whether from the Stormont talks, the Paris catwalks or the Orkneys fishing fleet. I want our features to be accessible to the reader, to be a showcase for the best writers in the land, to be surprising, unpredictable and not inspired by the PR industry. Things you will talk to your friends about.

Whereas most newspaper editors seem to exist in a frozen hinterland, miles away from the world inhabited by people, I do not. I live in a world where you can indulge your enthusiasm for both frocks and cathedrals, a world whose products I consume voraciously, whether they're digital hardware or organic apple juice; a world where petty rivalries and point- scoring and celebrity-hunting and masquerade journalism are of less consequence than truth, insight, stylish writing and human sympathy, all expressed as well as we are able.

I am not, contrary to popular rumour, going to change the paper into some yoof-oriented rumpus-room, full of pop stars and Cockneys. I will not have rap artists writing leaders, ulu editing the sports section, Elton John covering the City pages or Danny Baker conducting the etiquette column. I bring no hidden agenda to this job, no personal animus or political ambition. I have no axe to grind, no murky private obsession to pursue (though, okay then, one or two articles on rambling may sneak in). I am interested simply in bringing a more all-encompassing tone to this newspaper and making it feel to you, the reader, like a good friend invited over for Sunday lunch - full of news, colour, gossip and life as it is really (not journalistically) lived. I hope you enjoy the feast each week.