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The Thirty Years War

For three decades we have combated hypocrisy, ignorance, tyranny, poverty, cliche, deceit and celebrity nonsense. If you care for what we've done, join us in the fight - online

Saturday 26 March 2016 01:34 GMT
Andreas Whittam Smith, surrounded by editorial staff, holds a copy of the first official ‘Independent’ in October 1986
Andreas Whittam Smith, surrounded by editorial staff, holds a copy of the first official ‘Independent’ in October 1986 (The Independent)

They were mad to do it – reckless, even. As Andreas Whittam Smith, our first editor, explains in the supplement to today’s souvenir edition, the founders and initial staff of this newspaper defied convention, common sense and the advice of countless sages to launch a newspaper in 1986.

Yet the product of their crazy experiment has been the most wonderful boon to the life of the nation. Today is the last edition of the printed Independent, but our journalism now reaches more people in more countries than ever before, and will continue to do so in the digital sphere.

This bold transition, which history will judge an example for other newspapers around the world to follow, is a good moment to reflect on the journey so far.

The clue is in the name

There is such a thing as the spirit of The Independent, and the clue is in the name. (What a fine decision our founders made, incidentally, to ditch the alternative titles: Arena, The Examiner, The Nation, The Chronicle and 24 Hours.) In character and attitude The Independent is, above all, a pioneer. But it also has a set of values – political, moral, intellectual and cultural – which have remained consistent, been the source of our best victories and will inform our journalism in the digital sphere hereafter.

Our first edition was published during the Cold War. That was a time of deep ideological divisions across the globe and in British politics, which found expression in Fleet Street, too. With a polarised media, it was clearly refreshing to have a paper that was of no party or faction, and genuinely independent: free from both proprietorial interference and party allegiance. Politically independent doesn’t mean centrist, of course, and though on the whole we have been on the side of those who want to speed history up rather than slow it down, we have always fought for causes associated with both left and right.

If there is one political idea which we have mercilessly championed, it is democracy. No newspaper has campaigned harder against the absurdities of Britain’s electoral system or the blatant corruption of the House of Lords, and for us the sometimes plodding business of government has always mattered as much as the fast sport of party politics. Our pages have recognised that Britain is run as much from Whitehall as Westminster. As part of this mission, we have steered clear of royal coverage. Republican in principle but pragmatic enough not to be in practice, we have resolutely avoided the mental habits of royalism in which Fleet Street is trapped.

Making friends of heresies

Many of the unfashionable causes that we took up have switched from heresy to common sense during our lifetime. A decade before others, this newspaper gave climate change its due as a man-made threat both to humanity and the precious Earth we inhabit. For the most part, we did this without slipping into the sentimentalism or misanthropy that infects some of the green movement, and while promoting science and Enlightenment values with unique conviction.

We warned about the dangers of addiction to debt years before the political and financial class caught on (itself much too late). Long before Britain’s scandalous prison system and drug laws became fashionable subjects, we made the case for reform. We argued for equality and liberty to be extended to homosexual people here and across the world, and for a humane approach to asylum-seekers and refugees in the face of frenzied scaremongering from elsewhere. We have stood up for globalisation and immigration while being alert to, and honest about, their costs.

What’s more, we did all this without hacking a single phone. Rupert Murdoch tried to destroy us, and undoubtedly did us lasting damage. But 20 years after his infamous price war, we are still producing world-class journalism without bribing public officials, making crooks of police officers or accelerating the debasement of our country through the cheap thrills of paparazzi lenses and celebrity detritus masquerading as “popular” culture.

If the reputation of Britain’s boisterous, rampant media – split between two cultures, broadsheet and tabloid – is in the gutter, we have done our bit to wrench it out, and so make the case for a free press.

Truth not tribe

Today, the truth is becoming unfashionable again. Political language is increasingly designed to conflate and confuse; the campaigns and PR of officialdom and corporate power are shamelessly spreading deception as never before. Moreover, the truth is hard, expensive and sometimes boring, whereas lies are easy, cheap and thrilling. It is no wonder that that portion of the press for whom lies that sell matter more than truth that doesn’t is thriving. But, we humbly submit, that only makes our pursuit of real news more valiant.

In that war for truth and civilisation against lies and barbarity, this institution has been a brave and honest soldier. Once a single newspaper, we now publish across several digital platforms – web, mobile, tablet – and have our biggest audience ever. That is why The Independent, far from shutting, is switching. With history on our side, and global ambitions, we encourage you to join us online at, or via The Independent Daily Edition on tablet and mobile.

It’s been a remarkable journey, and such an honour to have had your companionship along the way. Today the presses have stopped, the ink is dry and the paper will soon crinkle no more. But as one chapter closes, another opens, and the spirit of The Independent will flourish still. Our work goes on, our mission endures, the war still rages, and the dream of our founders shall never die.

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