Almost exactly two years ago, the proprietor of The Independent, Evgeny Lebedev, uttered the words I’d been dying to hear. “So, when you start…”
I’d previously been Deputy Editor of The Independent and Independent on Sunday. I’d spent years in the House of Commons as the Indy’s Westminster Correspondent. I’d worked in the paper’s newsroom and on the business pages. Even though I’d left, to go to the Express and then the Evening Standard, I felt bound up with The Independent. I loved its values, its journalism.
Now, here I was, being offered by Evgeny the chance to edit this great paper. What I soon came to realise, as I did the job, was the importance of you, the reader. You want your Independent to stand for intelligence, accuracy and balance, not to take sides politically, never to preach, not to obsess over celebrity and royalty, to focus on the issues and stories that really matter.
None of us is perfect, and when, occasionally, the paper stepped out of line, I would be instantly admonished. One thing I can say with certainty about Indy readers is that you know your minds. You place great store by that word “independent”. You can be fierce and argumentative, funny too, and you’re not afraid of voicing your opinion or taking a different view.
I loved your letters and emails. The passion you displayed for this paper was extraordinary. You made me realise that loyal readers treat their favourite newspaper like a friend. A friend can tell you things you don’t want to hear, they can make you laugh or cry, they can argue and challenge, they can agree and disagree.
I also became aware, if I did not know already, of the brilliance of The Independent’s staff. Clever, hard-working, courageous (the bravery of our writers in Libya and Syria was truly humbling), warm and witty, they really do care about the world. (Something that was not lost on me as well during those two years was that here I was editing a paper that was leading on hacking and the decline in press standards highlighted so graphically at the Leveson Inquiry, yet had itself never hacked, not paid paparazzi nor bribed a public official).
The time has come for me to move on. Evgeny wants me to help transform the way his media businesses operate, so that he’s got all his journalists working as efficiently as possible, producing content for the Evening Standard, this newspaper, the i, Independent on Sunday and two websites, and due to start airing next year, the London Live TV station.
My new, elevated title of Group Content Director, I accept, has an Orwellian 1984 or John Birt’s BBC ring to it. But we could not find a better name that summarises our changed, multi-platform organisation and our ability to cope with the insatiable demands of the internet, print titles and television.
It’s an exciting, daunting brief. I’m not going far – one floor up in fact. And soon, I will be joined there by my Indy colleagues as we seek to build one structure, capable of servicing all those different formats.
From Monday, The Independent will be edited by Amol Rajan, currently in charge of our Voices section. To the readers and journalists who make The Independent what it is, I thank you. It’s been a privilege.