Letter from the Editor: Restoring Voices to the beating heart of the newspaper


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The Independent Online

A few weeks ago I mentioned that we were going to make a few tweaks to your newspaper, on your recommendation. We’re always making slight adjustments, of course.

But next week we’re making a much bigger change, in reinstating a comment section in the heart of the weekday paper.

Before explaining why, I should apologise for the fact that it ever went away. When we redesigned the paper just over a year ago, my thinking was that by inserting full-page columns through the news pages, we could improve the pace of the paper, and inject the writerly qualities of our excellent columnists throughout the front half of the book, as we call it.

To some extent, these aims were achieved, and met with your approval. But there was a cost: because the number of adverts we sell changes from day to day, the placing of these full-page columns chopped and changed, making them hard to find. We’ve worked really hard to improve the sign-posting of The Independent, with a magazine-style “Contents” table on page 2 – so the idea of things being hard to find goes against the grain. And while having editorials and Dave Brown on the opening spread (pages 2-3) remains popular, the lack of a comment section meant the paper seemed to lose its beating heart.

That is why, from Tuesday, the Voices section will once again be in the centre of the paper. Here you’ll find the best writers modern Britain has to offer, spanning not just the generations and genders, but also styles: from irony merchants to thumping polemicists and all that’s in between.

The other change is that we’re dropping the cartoon sketches that we ran as byline pictures. As ever, I want to be honest about why. Sometimes, they became impractical, as when a columnist shifted to a full page, only for us to realise that we didn’t have a cartoon byline picture drawn.

This meant we used a black-and-white byline picture, which looked messy and inconsistent, and as if we were trying to make a point. The other reason, frankly, is that I’ve had (ahem) one or two emails from writers who felt the sketches had aged them somewhat, asking would I mind paying for a new one, to which the answer was always yes.

By the way, there are three types of headline on comment pieces which I kill on sight. First, “X must do Y”, as in “Miliband must stand up to the unions”. Second, “Let’s…”, as in “Let’s end the scourge of Ebola”. Third, “It’s time for…”, as in, “It’s time for a new broom at the Treasury”. Doubtless we’ve run countless examples of all three in the past, but they’re lazy and formulaic, and I will try to stamp them out. Feel free to upbraid me if we let one through!