Letter from the Editor: 'Truth not tribe' is the Independent's abiding philosophy


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The Independent Online

When this newspaper was founded in 1986, there were several candidates for its name. One was “24/7”, which might not have worked too well when the internet turned up. Another was “The World”, reflecting our strong (and at that time unusual) belief in foreign reporting.

That belief was in evidence this week, as we published Patrick Cockburn’s scintillating five-part series “Inside the Islamic State”. No student of the modern Middle East has failed to incur a huge debt to Patrick, and I suspect he will win Foreign Reporter of the Year again next year off the back of this week’s material.

As Stephen Glover, one of our founders, recalls in his beautiful book Paper Dreams, when they finally alighted on “The Independent” it just felt right. Andreas Whittam Smith wrote it down and it looked spot on. He also liked the abbreviation, “Indy”, which is now in common use.

But the best thing about the name was it described the product. Of all the values held dear by our founding staff, few mattered as much as the idea that we would be of no party or faction. Whereas other papers were slavish in their coverage and endorsement of either left or right, we would be a newspaper that scrutinised news stories not according to whether they fitted with an ideological agenda, but rather whether or not they were actually true. I think of this approach as “truth not tribe”.

Some people think that it’s inconsistent to write daily editorials taking a position on the big issues of the day, and then when one of the biggest calls comes up – who to vote for in a general election – not make a recommendation at all. You seem to take a different view. All our research suggests that readers of this newspaper put a very high price on the idea of fair, balanced, accurate reporting – above all on politics.

What does “truth not tribe” mean in practice? It means a ferocious commitment to accuracy in news reportage; not necessarily endorsing a particular political party; giving all political parties a hard time; and giving you the best information and analysis, and encouraging you to make up your own mind. It means being maverick, optimistic and mischievous.

One thing we’re not neutral about, however, is democracy. This paper takes a fundamentalist approach to democracy, believing it morally superior to all rivals, and campaigning for its reform. We also think British democracy is in poor health – and that an informed, enlightened citizenry is vital to its recovery.

That is why, over the coming weeks, our journalism will be distinguished by the approach that has been our hallmark for more than a quarter of a century. Truth not tribe is the Independent way.