Closing of “The Independent” - UK press shifts even further to the right

By Jane Whyatt
The British press, already shown by independent researchers to be the most right wing in Europe, has lost again two of its left-liberal titles, The Independent and The Independent on Sunday. And a new print newspaper, The New Day, launches on February 29th with a "politically neutral" stance.

Russian-born media owner Evgeny Lebedev has decided to close the print editions of The Independent, and its sister The Independent on Sunday. An estimated 75 journalists will lose their jobs. But “star writers” including war reporters Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk will continue to work for the newspaper’s website The print editions will cease at the end of March 2016.

The Independent has provided distinctive coverage since it was founded in 1986. It was known for critical, left-of-centre commentary and memorable pictures such as the photograph of the three–year-old refugee boy who drowned and was washed up on a Turkish beach.

During the negotiations to prevent Britain leaving the European Union, the Independent ”named and shamed” the seven most negative pieces of reportage about the so-called “Brexit” debate in its rival newspapers. They include Hollywood actress Emma Thompson’s view that Britain is a “rainy corner of sort-of-Europe, a cake-filled misery-laden grey old island.

The newspaper has always claimed to be as independent as its title. So, for example, Travel Editor Simon Calder always pays for his own trips rather than relying on freebies from the industry

However the title was losing money, with circulation as low as 50,000. The website by contrast attracts 3,331,403 unique browsers per day.

The Independent Political Correspondent Andy McSmith told ECPMF:

The imminent closure of The Independent has been predicted so often for so many years that it can't be said that this was a total shock, though it is very disappointing. … thousands of people are going to miss the Indy and the Sindy.

Meanwhile the Independent’s younger brother, the "i", a profitable print tabloid aimed at the youth market, is to be sold to rival Johnston Press, owner of The Scotsman. And Lebedev retains ownership of the London Evening Standard which has been in profit for the past three years, with its local television channel London Live TV.

In his letter to staff explaining the closures, Lebedev insists:

The future is digital.

So the launch of a new British print-only newspaper with no website comes as a surprise. Trinity Mirror, owners of the left-wing, Labour party-supporting Daily Mirror and more than 150 regional papers, is making this leap of faith.

The New Day The New Day - promises positive, optimistic news (photo: ECPMF)

The New Day, launching on 29th February 2016, promises positive, optimistic news and lifestyle features for 35-55 year olds.  

What is positive news? Head of News Steve White gives as an example the opening of a new dogs’ home in Manchester, and the first abandoned dog to get a new home.

The "politically neutral" stance of The New Day aims to appeal to readers who are bored by Brexit, coverage of the refugee crisis and other examples of "bad news" and prefer a newspaper that will cheer them up.

They may also be hoping that the name will bring them luck as it is shared by a World Wrestling Entertainment crew WWE New Day. Fans are making fun of the choice of newspaper title on social media but editor Alison Phillips is unabashed: "like it’s a BAD THING?!" she tweeted. She describes the paper as "designed for people’s modern lifestyles". Phillips is a Mirror insider who writes a weekly column, sounding off about, for example, the need for all Muslim women in the UK to learn English.

Chief Executive Simon Fox sounds optimistic in the company press release:"Revitalising print is a core part of our strategy … there doesn’t have to be a choice between the two – newspapers can live in the digital age if they have been designed to offer something different."
Read the full press release here.

To print or not to print? That is the question for a debate at London’s City University on 30th March, when Professor Roy Greenslade (a former editor of The Daily Mirror 1990-91) will attempt to explain the apparent contradictions of the Indy closure and the New Day launch.

One thing is certain: by the end of March, the political spectrum of the British press will have turned a deeper shade of blue.