Richard and Judy commandeer the deck of our refitted vessel

Back on board, the Editor in Chief of The Independent, answers those niggling questions that everyone is asking

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IT'S GOOD to be home. For those readers who hadn't noticed, I have been ''resting'' (in the actors' sense) for the past few weeks. Well, all right then, I was fired. Many of you wrote to me to commiserate afterwards and not a few expressed a sense of bafflement about just what was going on and why, and what might happen next.

But, while a believer in openness, I don't want to regurgitate past arguments. It would be messy, insanitary and undignified. Much more important, there was a happy ending, which is rare in journalism. So I have decided to regard my head-first plunge from Canary Wharf Tower as a minor if spectacular diversion in the middle of the Independent drama - window left accidentally open - executive foot in the wrong place - dozy editor trips over it - flails - disappears - huge amusement all round - curtain - time for an ice-cream before the next act.

The Independent, however, has a reputation for being frank with its readers so here are my answers to some, at least, of the questions that have been fired at us since the change of ownership on Wednesday.

Why have you returned?

First, because I was asked to. Second, because the new owners want to take the paper in the right direction. The shorthand term for that is ''up-market'' but a combination of words such as intelligent, serious, authoritative and literate gives a more accurate sense of what we mean by that. We don't mean turgid or Whitehall-obsessive: these days, serious coverage must include a lot of culture, science, technology and so on. Nothing is out of bounds. We can write about the Iranian economy or what Verve wear on their feet. The question is: how good, interesting and well- informed is the writing?

Rosie Boycott and I have been told, in simple terms, to make the paper steadily more intelligent and serious. During an era when most papers are dumbing down, it came as an unusual and exhilarating instruction. Further, we have been given some money to spend on journalists - another happy surprise. The Independent will never be a fat-cat paper (in your dreams, Marr) but now we have the tools and ownership to do the job. Who, with a spark of imagination, could resist?

Hmm. You've mentioned Rosie Boycott ...

Yes, and before you start, we get on well and are both determined to carry on doing so. We are very different types, interested in different things, with different histories, prejudices and talents. But we both think we can make a better paper together than either of us could do separately. Fleet Street lore says that authority cannot be shared in a newspaper - that it's like some kind of storm-tossed ship needing a single bawling cap'n with a peg leg to make it through. We disagree. We intend The Independent to be an open, comradely and free-thinking organisation, without two loud and contending egos struggling with cutlasses on a slippery quarterdeck. But those members of staff who have taken to referring to us as Richard and Judy had better watch their step.

But who will do what?

In day to day terms, I set the editorial policy in the ''leaders'' and oversee the comment pages, seven days a week: Rosie does the rest. But there isn't going to be a sharply divided paper, with two different characters doing different bits. We'll work together as equals, sharing ideas about how to improve the whole paper.

Will you change the editorial line of the paper, including the cannabis campaign?

The values of the paper are at its heart. We are a liberal, pro-political reform, pro-European paper, with friends in all parties and signed up to none. None of that is going to change a jot. The cannabis campaign was always an Independent on Sunday one, conducted vigorously, which is changing the terms of debate throughout the country. Rosie and I don't wholly agree about cannabis, though I do think it should be legalised for medical use but the IoS will carry on what it started.

Are you going to go back to the previous design?

No. In different circumstances, it would have worked. A lot of readers liked it, some loathed it. One day, maybe, lots of newspapers will look that way. But you can't keep zig-zagging back and forth. The paper's design is now going to gently evolve in a direction we think you will approve of (if you notice it - newspaper design is, I know, something of vast interest to editors and vastly less interest to most readers).

But don't you have a big-stick proprietor, now, in Tony O'Reilly?

I've worked with him as commentator and editor for three or four years and he has never once tried to influence the policy of this paper. He is no Rupert Murdoch. He likes journalists and journalism of quality, and expresses cheerfully earthy contempt for proprietors who try to stifle editorial freedom. He's also appointed people to the board of our company, like Chris Patten and Baroness (Helena) Kennedy, who are known as tough- minded and independent types. Which you wouldn't do if you wanted to undermine the paper's freedom. Would you?

Aren't you still, though, bound to be squeezed to death by the price war?

It doesn't help. The whole broadsheet market has been distorted by Murdoch's predatory pricing and continues to be so. But I sniff a change in the weather. The House of Lords amendment to the Competition Bill which deals with this was passed against the wishes of the Government after an excellent and heated debate. Then came the great HarperCollins affair - though Chris Patten had agreed to serve on our new board before that - and the row over the Times's China coverage. As a result, in the Commons, more and more MPs on both sides have finally decided that Murdoch's unfair tactics must somehow be confronted. I hope and believe that a useful compromise offer will come from the Government, as a result. This is a good time for The Independent to be back in fighting form.

Have you learnt anything from your dismissal?

Yes. First, I've got more friends than I thought I had. Second, my children's names.

Are you going to carry on writing like a low-rent Miles Kington?

No. Sorry. I will be back to writing straight stuff more or less immediately.

Well, that's clear enough. Now don't you think we've heard enough about you, and the paper, for a while?

Yes. Yes. Quite right. Sorry.

Stop apologising.


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