Editor's letter: A note on how we cover royal matters

A tinge of republicanism remains. But we are also deeply pragmatic

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Morning all. Thank you for the many kind letters and tweets about our royal coverage this week, after we did the story about the Duchess of Cambridge being pregnant as a news in brief item. Clearly it is a bit hypocritical to write at length about why you never write at length about royal matters. But I’ve had enough enquiries to think it may be worth a recap.

When The Independent was launched in October 1986, it had what Andreas Whittam Smith, our founder and first Editor, describes as a tinge of republicanism. He found the royal soap opera uninspiring, and decided that any royal coverage must therefore satisfy two conditions. First, the news must be of constitutional significance. Second, it must be proportionate. He also had two instincts on the subject. First, it would be interesting to know if a successful newspaper could avoid fawning royal coverage. Second, royal coverage was in any case generally damaging to the Royal Family.

A celebrated incident took place the night one of Prince Andrew’s daughters was born. Andreas knew the news would break late. He told a sub-editor to put the story in the nibs (news in brief) column, and asked that the weight of the baby only be mentioned if it was very heavy or very light. The next morning, he was satisfied to see the story in nibs, but disappointed to see the unsurprising weight also mentioned. I have tried to revive something of the spirit of Andreas’s Independent, not on nostalgic grounds, but rather because it was such a magnificent newspaper. Applying his two-point test, we did give space to both young George’s christening and Kate’s current pregnancy, in the nibs column.

That tinge of republicanism remains. But we are also deeply pragmatic. There is not much point campaigning for an elected head of state, because it simply isn’t going to happen. Instead we do our small bit to help emancipate Britain from the mental and moral habits of royalism. One of those habits is sycophantic news coverage, which is really propaganda for the aristocracy masquerading as journalism. We also campaign against other aspects of Britain’s aristocracy, such as the legalised corruption that is our misnamed Honours system.

The above applies only to our print edition. Having very different audiences, our website, and sister title i, do carry royal coverage – though of course they do it smartly and with scepticism. Whatever your view of the monarchy, this week’s news is at base joyous: a young, married couple are expecting their second child. We have no personal animus against William or Kate, and wish them and their burgeoning family all the very best.

Of much greater news value is whether the United Kingdom they are supposedly destined to rule will exist this time next week. Stay tuned for what could be the biggest story in over 300 years.

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