The aim of this essay is to analyse the state of the news industry through a case study of the Independent. The essay will include details regarding the paper’s history and possible future and its parent company while also examining the news outlet’s financial position and its various revenue streams. It will also include issues about the publication in the press and its staff and significant stories around them. Other sources such as Picard, Griffiths, Cole and Harcup and Conboy have been taken into account while preparing this case study.
Launched in 1986, the first issue of The Independent was published on 7 October in broadsheet format by three former journalists at The Daily Telegraph – Andreas Whittam Smith, Stephen Glover and Matthew Symonds. Advertised by the slogan “It is. Are you?” implying and challenging the rest of the newspapers at the time of their independency. (Griffiths, 1992)
In the 90s the newspaper faced numerous financial problems due to price cutting by the Murdoch titles. A debate that will go on to the extent which will eventually lead to Newspaper Publishing restricting with the rights issues and splitting the share holds to three between Tony O’Reilly’s Independent News and Media and MGN owning 43% each and Prisa owning 12%. (Lewis, 2008)
In March 1998 O’Reilly bought more shares and Andrew Marr a political commentator was appointed as an editor of the Independent, while Rosie Boycott became of The Independent on Sunday and Brendan Hopkins headed Independent News. The changes which Marr introduced were a short-lived redesign but eventually admits it was a commercial failure due to low promotional budget. (Marr, 2004)
Just after two months on the job Andrew Marr left in May, later on becoming a political editor for the BBC and was replaced by Simon Kelner. With the circulation falling, Independent News spent a lot of money trying to increase it but by this time it had been fallen below 200,000. Going through several redesigns it increased but never achieved the desired result or its previous glory or restore any profitability. This lead to financial and job cuts which eventually led to reduced quality of journalism.
In July 2002 Hopkins was replaced with Ivan Fallon as a head of Independent News and Media who’s been a key figure at The Sunday Times. By the middle of 2004 the newspaper was losing a lot of money – around £5 million per year, which lead to slight improvements resulting into circulation increase; by the 2006 the circulation was at a nine year high.
Following further staff cuts and financial difficulties the production was moved to Northcliffe House the headquarters of Associated newspapers in Kensington High Street. (Sweney,2008)
The national morning newspaper was sold in March 2010 to a Russian oligarch- Alexander Lebedev. Making headlines that he acquired it for £1 fee and further £9,25 million over the next 10 months, it was a bid in order to save the newspaper instead of closing it which would have cost £28m and £40m respectively due to long-term contracts. (The Independent, 2010) (Ft.com, 2010)
In October 2010 The I was launched, a sister newspaper which used some of the same material. Later on, it was sold to Johnston Press but its online presence, i100, was restyled as indy100 and retained by Independent News & Media.
As of June 2017, The Independent made headline again due to Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel a Saudi investor buying 30% stake of the online newspaper. In a BBC article by Amol Rajan a former editor at The Independent describes the foreign investor as “a rich man who wants to be richer” and “seeking influence” describing this as one of the main reasons people invest in media. This eventually lead to people doubting the independence of The Independent.The article also explains that Abuljadayel won’t have a place on the Board and that Evgeny Lebedev still retains with 41%; Justin Byam Shaw, an entrepreneur, will have 26%; and a few other minor shareholders will make up the rest. (BBC News, 2017)
After changing its format in 2003 to tabloid the newspaper nicknamed the Indy took another bold bet in 2016 and became the first national newspaper to move entirely online. But by this time its circulation had dropped to about 50,000 at the time of it going online – more than 85 per cent down from its 1990 peak (Powerpoint). One of the reasons to survive with a small circulation is because appealed to an elite audience. The last printed edition of The Independent was published on Saturday 20 March 2016.
Regarding the financial situation of the online newspaper there’s isn’t much information other than what is reported by them or other news outlets. As ESI Media in shared ownership in a private company is usually quite difficult to value due to the absence of a public market for the shares.
In October 2016, The Independent has become profitable for the first time in more than 20 years following its decision to become a digital reported Press Gazette. (Pressgazette.co.uk, 2016) The Financial Times also reported that according to ComScore a research firmthe company’s digital switch has been vindicated by a major growth online — from 15.8m unique users in February to 21m in June ahead of the UK’s referendum on EU membership, but then falling to 16.2m in August. (Ft.com, 2016 )
As we know from history one of the main ways of newspapers making money is from advertising. In Picard’s “Shifts in newspaper advertising expenditures and their implication for the future of newspaper” it says that the “primary function of the newspaper is an advertising delivery system”, a symbiotic relationship that started a long time ago. In Cole and Harcup book they say that around “30% of revenue of redtops comes from advertising”. Now that technologies have advanced there are many options for the advertising companies to show their product. (Cole and Harcup, 2010) On ESI media website the rate cards of the online newspaper show the following: In comparison to the rate card of the print edition easily it can be seen that the digital version has way more options from the standard ad in a newspaper. Instead of spreading ad on a whole page or half we can see that there are options such as static banners for smartphones, overlaying of an ad, coverwraps and others. All of which can be more appealing to the advertising companies in order to generate more profit as they have more options to structure the ad the way they want it. But to what audience they sell their product?
Toning down on the clickbait titles the online newspaper still brings the feeling of the online magnate BuzzFeed which is seen as not serious journalism. As Jonah Peretti (the founder of BuzzFeed) says himself, his audience is the bored at work audience and the news that they supply them with will reach them quicker than anyone else, so maybe The Independent is onto something which only few have figured out so far. (PAPERMAG/Pasternack, 2012)A simple google search of the online newspaper and visiting its Wikipedia page it says it’s political alignment is liberal. As mentioned before by the FT the online newspaper hit a record high traffic growth in June around the UK referendum, from personal observations The Independent was one of the few maybe the only media outlets who was standing behind the “remain” campaign until the very last and continued posting articles showing new possibilities how the result of the referendum can be turned around. To some this can seem as a desperation or being a sour loser but it may be seen as a brilliant tactic of keeping their desired audience by offering them more of what they want. (Conboy, 2011) The online newspaper is not a stranger to being a regular ‘guest’ in other media outlets’ articles and columns, also is a way of tracking its progress through the years as it is still relatively new and it doesn’t have books and journals written about it and its rich history as for example The Guardian has. Starting from the controversial slogan they chose to advertise the newspaper in 1986 to Saudi investor buying a chunk of it, The Independent lives in the spotlight and it will have to get used to it if it hasn’t by now since it was the first national newspaper to go fully online serving as an example of what the future could bring. Few of the most noticeable moments could be April 1992 when The Independent overtook the circulation of The Times, which eventually lead to a big controversy between them. Resulting in Rupert Murdoch slashing the price of The Times so it’s cheaper than The Independent by 20p and affording to attract more readers was one of the key factors for the drop of circulation of the newspaper making it more vulnerable to a takeover.Another key moment which could’ve affected the public image of the newspaper is when in March 1996 42 journalist from The Independent and The Independent on Sunday were made redundant. (Pressgazette.co.uk, 2016)One of the big stories about the newspaper was actually for one of its employees. Described as celebrated Left–wing commentator, Johann Hari was caught up in an internet storm over allegations of plagiarism in 2011. Apparently, a reader brought to attention that a quote in one of his stories have been cut and pasted from a book which eventually lead of him being stripped from Britain’s most prestigious journalism award – George Orwell. After a denial of his side other example of “him allegedly recycling quotes” was reported by The Telegraph. The newspaper suspended him immediately and launched an investigation into it but it was too late as he has already failed to shame. (Hough, 2011)Another mark stone in the newspaper history could be when the reports broke that the online newspaper claim profit for first time in 23 years after it went fully online. Giving us a glimpse into the future or maybe reminding the readers and journalists that we live in the future and maybe old school techniques and strategies are about to be turned around in order to keep up with the times. None the less it will be an important lesson for the future generations and for this one that embracing the future can bring to something new and better and maybe something never seen before.The most recent ‘controversial news’ around The Independent have been the chunk of shares that the Saudi investor Sultan Muhammad Abuljadayel acquired. With The Guardian and BBC doubting how independent The Intendent will be actually and how much freedom the female staff will have to write for what they desire or if they’re going to be treated as equal as the rest of the staff keeping in mind one of the biggest shareholders come from a patriarchal country. A lot of things can be said as a conclusion but it will never be enough and it definitely won’t be a conclusion as history is writing itself every minute and what is said today can change tomorrow. The future of journalism could not be written on the stars and it may have difficulties but it’s here to stay. What was once available only for the lords and well-educated members of society today is available in almost everyone’s pocket from a screen not bigger than the palm of our hands. At the moment, it could be said that we’re in the exploration age of journalism. Embracing the future and its wonders such as technologies and alternative ways of presenting information in the form of a slideshow, 360° picture from the place where the event took place; we’re slowly progressing into the new yet unexplored vast sea of new ways of bringing the viewer or reader or listener as close as possible to the event. The Independent may not be the best newspaper in the world for some people it could be the worse, and the other way around but it’s a good example of thinking forward. Taking advantage of what is on offer today and using it wisely. Maybe not everyone has the latest piece of technology like Google glass, a VR headset or sophisticated sounds system with which somewhere a newspaper or a magazine or online media is offering to their audience to explore the depths of the ocean, but almost everyone has a smartphone. Almost everyone is online every day, browsing in the internet for something, talking to friends on Facebook or other social media, and in the mean time they will see what you show them. Scrolling through thousands of pages with information the industry has to be really smart at the moment in order to provide the best for their readers. A possible topic for debate could be “Should a news outlet shape their news and post only things in order to please their audience or should they report everything?”. As mentioned above The Independent took the stand and stayed pro EU, or so it seems by the content they’re sharing, so isn’t this making it bias, can the reader really trust it, isn’t this a form of propaganda? Obviously, it was successful for them that they found that their average reader is a “remainer” under 35 years of age which allows them to pick better what they chose to publish, but since it’s treated more as a business and trying to attract more readers doesn’t the quality of journalism drops? People working there will be forced to find stories only regarding this age group and target audience, supplying them with their daily dose of “there’s still hope, Brexit can be cancelled” and not “the truth is Brexit will happen and it was already decided now in the other news this is also happening”. Although always being a business and not being able to survive if it’s not making money journalism should probably distant itself from being treated as a business and turn into it’s pure form which is in favour to the people. Hopefully in the future journalism will be able to find the silver lining between a successful media outlet which profits and brings not bias content for its audience. The Independent can serve as an example in the future of British journalism and be a pioneer for whatever is up to happen but if it was a smart move and if it was the right time for it is early to tell.