Is forced to swallow the contents of his sickbag in his column for the, erm, Independent:
So what do I think of last week’s re-vamp, as well as other changes introduced by The Independent’s new editor, Roger Alton, over the past few months? This lively all-colour tabloid is certainly very far from the restrained and classic newspaper that first appeared 22 years ago. Times, no doubt, have changed. Mr Alton’s transformation is more one of style than substance, though there are more stories about celebrities, and the recent, slightly blush-making part-work about sex would have been unimaginable even five years ago … Rather amusingly, a new section was described by The Independent last week as “brilliant”. Every new columnist the Mail introduces is invariably “brilliant”.
One pound is a premium price which implies a premium product. For the first time since its launch, The Independent is arguably slightly downmarket, in style if not in content, of The Guardian and even the (recently more elevated) Times.
Mr Alton had a choice. He could have taken The Independent upmarket, accepting that it would sell fewer copies in the medium term, but hoping that its readers would cheerfully bear a progressively higher cover price in return for undiluted seriousness. I suspect he was not even momentarily tempted by this option.
Poor old Stephen. He is absolutely dead right that Alton would not have been tempted for one moment to produce the paper that he still believes the Independent ought to have been: a serious, centre-right tabloid that was a lot of fun to read—something like a daily version of the Spectator under Alexander Chancellor. As the Independent’s first foreign editor, he gathered a marvellous stable of writers in pursuit of this ambition—Chancellor himself, Ed Lucas. James Fenton. Patrick Marnham, Richard Dowden—and he had a deputy who did all the necessary grunt work too. His one spell as an editor, at the Independent on Sunday, was a failure almost tragic to watch, except that it wasn’t his virtues that brought him down. But very few people are successful editors, even when they are good journalists, and he’s an excellent officer when he has the right second in command. It must be horrible for him to look at the Alton Independent, with its Ten Best Sex Toys feature; and nothing he says in that column distracts attention from the central fact about that relaunch, which is that the paper is raising its cover price as we enter a recession without investing anything at all in journalism. That is exactly what we did in 1991, which is an important part of the explanation for why Stephen is a media columnist on the paper now, and not an editor.
But even if Sir Anthony O’Reilly were to repent and offer Stephen the editorship of the paper, to make of it what he willed, the change would be impossible because the money isn’t there. Good journalism costs lots of money, even if not enough as journalists would like to believe, and I suspect that an up-market Independent would have to lose at least as much as the Guardian for years before it made anything, if it ever did. Its real competition would be the FT and the Wall Street Journal.
See also Paul Dunn’s letter in the Guardian today: you’ll have to scroll down.