One day, perhaps, the bizarre and extremely expensive ceremony of printing “the news” onto paper will be over. We used to put those “newspapers” in despatch vehicles, and drive them to shops around the country before dawn so people could pick up the latest current affairs along with their morning milk. Perhaps that ritual will one day evaporate completely.
You’d think so if The Independent‘s fate is repeated. After all, we get our “news” now a few minutes after it has transpired. We don’t need it to be wheeled to us or posted into our letterboxes. Any news that arrives that way is “old”. The antithesis of the “new” which news implies.
The Independent was a brave new print publication back when it arrived in 1986. It carved out a niche in the market by promising to be “free from party political bias, free from proprietorial influence”. The newspaper launched with the slogan: “It is. Are you?”
At its peak, The Independent sold around 428,000 copies a day. By the time the print edition died, the number of copies being sold each weekday in newsagents was closer to 28,000.
It was losing money. Fewer and fewer people were paying for print when you could get your news for free elsewhere.
In 2010, Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev bought both The Independent and The Independent on Sunday newspapers. For £1.
He already owned the London Evening Standard.
In February 2016, Lebedev announced that both titles would cease printing newspapers and continue online only. Print newspapers are finding it harder to attract advertisers than they used to, because a lot of advertising spend has gone online. Naturally, as sales of print editions fall, advertisers become even more reluctant to splash their cash in print. Some journalists speculated that The Independent‘s move was only the beginning of the end, and gradually every print title would be lost (as others have already been).
This may be the case, but we have to hope that the online incarnations have the resources to continue to invest in the efforts and expertise of journalists unpicking facts on the ground. If they don’t, we will have lost not just the medium, but the message.
Nevertheless, the trees will thank us.