Letter From The Editor

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The Independent Online
Readers write, in tones ranging from pained reproof to hearty acclamation, that the paper is ``aiming for younger readers''. So we are: but I don't use ``younger'' in the straightforward sense. We have readers, and we all know people, who are physically in their teens or twenties, yet burdened with immense pessimism, mental weariness and inflexibility - people with sensible pension provision and clothes made to last, who stay in at night reading political biographies and who find the Daily Telegraph a little racy. Then there are the people who are physically much older, but who are inquiring, hard to shock, thirsty for new experiences and ideas - often more so than when they were younger.

It isn't simply a hangover from the Sixties, as in AbFab. I've had letters approving the boldness of the redesign from nonogenarians, and criticising the change from school students. One crude caricature of the ``new reader'' that we want - a caricature gleaned from conversations with people in advertising - might be: female; sexually liberated and adventurous; radical in her thinking, and certainly interested in issues like gender, the environment and the Third World; clever, cultured; stroppy; independent-minded; free- thinking. But before you imagine a cool twenty-something Soho type, let it be said that this is a fair, indeed rather reticent sketch of Naomi Mitchison, the author and feminist. Today, as it happens, is her birthday. She is 100; and there are a lot of older people on this planet who are still in their teens.

Without television coverage of the Louise Woodward trial, The Independent would have been less interested in it. The gavel-to-gavel live coverage was running in this newsroom, as I suppose all others, and constantly attracted a knot of bystanders, lured away from phones and keyboards by a sudden tough question. Like the rest of the American and British audience, we were constantly making judgements about whether or not ``she did it'' - unfair judgements, based on Louise's demeanour, personal prejudice about child care, the shape of the prosecuting attorney's face, the coiffured poise of the mother, and so on.

But that, of course, was part of what was going on in the jury's collective mind too: they were swayed by trivial detail, as well as medical evidence, because they are human. So it doesn't seem to me that the trial was worse for being televised, or that the ``media circus'' necessarily changed the result. Lawyers always grandstand and play to the gallery, with or without cameras present. But with television there is a vast, voteless second jury of millions. Now it comments, generally unfavourably, on the first jury's decision. The televised courtroom produced a big, informed reaction that will help Louise Woodward. So the effect was, if anything, positive. Had we had bigger public interest in, and reaction to, recent British court cases, we would have had more justice, not less.

One aspect of media-saturated life that I'm becoming increasingly aware of is the relatively sophisticated news-awareness of children. Last week we were involved in a car crash. No one was hurt, but it was a big bang and as we were describing what happened to the police in a neighbouring house, the conversation was constantly interrupted by our nearly-three- year-old announcing: ``Pooowar Pwincess Diana! She was kilt because 'er dwiver was dwunk. She wasn't wearing a seatbelt. Poooowaaar Pwincess Diana.'' Then, yesterday morning, as we had breakfast, school bags sitting by the door, our eight-year-old suddenly said: ``Dad, can I go to Summerhill, please?''

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