It is one of those moments when I remember exactly where I was. Standing in an Oxfordshire garden in an effort to find a strong signal on my mobile, I had Andrew Mullins, the managing director of The Independent, on the other end of the line. I was editor of the paper at the time, and I was listening intently to what Andrew had to say. The outcome of the discussions in which the two of us had been engaged for some weeks was that we would become the first newspaper – in Britain certainly, and probably the world – to produce a diffusion line.
Our response to the chilling circulation figures for all national newspapers, and to the reality that, for a growing number of young people, a newspaper was not part of their daily media consumption, was to put a completely new product before them. The Independent has a history of innovation, stretching back from its inception in 1986 – with countless features that were quickly adopted by our rivals – through to the launch in 2003 of Britain’s first quality tabloid (copied by more than 70 papers across the world) but this was, in some ways, the boldest step yet.
We would re-purpose the words that went into The Independent and produce a new kind of paper, one designed for a world in which information and entertainment comes on any number of platforms, in any number of convenient ways. A paper, too, that recognises the time pressures on the modern media consumer, and which gives high quality content in a concise and affordable package.
That wasn’t quite how Andrew may have described it as I walked among the rhododendrons, but it quickly began to make sense to both of us. At that point, I did what I always do when a new project comes along: I brought in people much smarter than I am. And in the history of i, there are some real unsung heroes among those who gave it editorial shape: the contributions made in those embryonic days by Adam Leigh, Louis Jebb, and Richard Askwith, together with the Cases design agency from Barcelona, were utterly crucial, and without whom we possibly wouldn’t be celebrating i’s 1,000th issue tomorrow.
Yes, against a backdrop of unfavourable commercial conditions for newspapers, this little upstart reaches a landmark that some of our mean-spirited critics (i.e. other newspapers’ media commentators) were adamant we would never see. They reckoned without our readers who, from the very start, appeared to make an emotional investment in i. In my time in newspapers, I have never experienced such a sense of ownership from the readership.
I thought the “Letter from the Editor” would be a short-lived feature, maybe just for the first few days to point readers towards our new features. The feedback I got encouraged us to keep it going, and I ended up doing it every day for more than a year, and it’s still going strong, under younger and better-looking, but equally hirsute, direction. A newspaper is only as good as its readers, and that’s the main reason why we’ve reached 1,000 issues.