Letter from Simon Kelner: 25 years of Independent thinking


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I am not generally one for anniversaries, but today is the 25th birthday of The Independent, the newspaper we generally call the sister title of i, but is actually its mother ship.

In newspaper terms, The Indy is not exactly old – The Times started publishing on New Year's Day 1785 and even a "newcomer" like The Daily Telegraph is 166 years old – but today's landmark is certainly worth celebrating. And at a time when newspapers face all sorts of threats to their future and journalism is under scrutiny as never before, it is worth remembering why The Independent came into existence in the first place.

It was felt, in 1986, that there was an appetite for a quality paper not compromised by political affiliation or proprietorial influence and, under the inspirational editorship of Andreas Whittam Smith (I can say that for sure, because I was on the paper at launch), The Independent delivered on its promise of journalism free from vested interests. Very quickly, the fledgling paper became a success, known variously for its superb photography, the quality of its foreign coverage, the soundness of its commentary and the excellence of its sports pages. I think it is true that newspapers are at their best when the energy and passion of those producing the paper is communicated to the readers and this The Indy did from day one. The staff had a zeal and a sense of mission that is still palpable in the newsroom of today and the determination to overcome the odds that Whittam Smith inculcated in us, possibly inspired by his receiving a wreath from the editor of The Telegraph on launch day, is the primary reason for the paper still being alive today.

The political landscape 25 years ago was, of course, very different. Before Tony Blair's Third Way, it seemed there was only one way or another, left or right, and The Independent fulfilled an important centrist role in our political culture. As politics has become triangulated, it could be argued that a principal raison d'être of the paper no longer exists: everyone is broadly in the centre now and we even have a Coalition government to prove it. But in the post-hacking, post-Leveson world, I believe the bond of trust that a paper like The Independent – and, by extension, i – has with its readers will prove more important than ever. Mistakes have been made along the way, triumphs have been savoured and editors, myself included, have come and gone. But now, with enlightened owners in the shape of the Lebedevs, the paper's immediate future is secure. In any case, without The Independent, where would i (or even I) be?