Media Awards 2004: Media Achiever Of The Year - Simon Kelner

Simon Kelner must smile quietly to himself when he reflects on the myriad ways in which his rivals have attempted to belittle his success over the past year or, equally feebly, attempted to damn him with faint praise.

They point out that The Independent isn't exactly the first newspaper to go tabloid - red-tops and middle-market titles were, in the dim, and in some cases not so distant, past, large-size newspapers - and it certainly will not be the last. They point out that the paper has had to invest heavily, with each new sale costing the company almost £100. And, bizarrely, they point out that this current growth phase can't last forever and that when the momentum goes, then The Independent really will be in trouble.

The sincerest form of perverse flattery, though, is probably not so much to be found in the fact that The Times has copied the Kelner revolution and that The Guardian might (sort of) follow suit too, but in the emergence of rivals and former colleagues who now feel able to reveal that they thought of it first. Or proposed doing it absolutely ages ago, when it would have been a real innovation. There's nothing so becomes a great idea than the number of people queueing up to take credit.

But perhaps the truth is that the newspaper market still hasn't really come to terms with what has hit it. The Times, uncharacteristically for a Rupert Murdoch-owned property, has dithered, deciding only a few weeks back to go tabloid across its whole print run. Some observers say it is not yet unreservedly comfortable in its new skin. Meanwhile, The Guardian, which previously prided itself on being the great innovator in the quality market, has appeared paralysed. A move to a Berliner format, if and when it happens, may be too little, too late. And as for The Daily Telegraph ...

Perhaps the truth is that The Independent's broadsheet rivals have only superficially understood the design revolution that accompanied The Independent's format change and what made it work so powerfully. You can understand why Kelner insists on using the word "compact" to describe The Independent's new format, because it shares little in common with the page layout ideas favoured further down market.

Not even its worst enemies can accuse it of dumbing down. Or (which would almost be worse) of being stuffy. Now and then, Kelner will sanction one of the paper's now notorious, attention-grabbing "concept fronts" where page one is given over to a purely typographical layout - a manifesto, perhaps, or a damning list of statistics that puts an issue into stark perspective. These will doubtless eventually come to be seen as design classics, powerfully evocative of the era that produced them.

Which brings us to arguably the least-appreciated ingredient in Kelner's successful formula. He has transformed a newspaper with a dry heritage (when it launched almost 20 years ago, its clinical detachment was the stuff of instant parody) into a warm-blooded campaigning journal of the liberal left. Let's not forget, too, that Kelner was one of only two national newspaper editors to take a stance against the war in Iraq - and the only one to do so with uncompromising principle and integrity.

The reading public has liked what it has seen and The Independent's seemingly inexorable circulation rise during the past year has been well documented.

Back in September, 12 months after the compact revolution was begun, The Independent's UK paid-for sale was up by just under 25 per cent year on year.

That's an astonishing figure, especially when you consider that the paper was, according to many observers, on its last legs - and many actually predicted that the compact redesign would be the final nail in its coffin.

Kelner has picked up a clutch of awards in recent months and Campaign is proud to add its Media Achiever of the Year to that list. His rivals and contemporaries should learn to join graciously in the applause. A declining and lack-lustre newspaper market has been desperate for a spark of inspiration and Kelner's reinvention of The Independent should give hope to publishers everywhere that there truly is life after the internet.

CV

1998 - present editor-in-chief, The Independent

1995 - 1996 editor, The Mail on Sunday's Night and Day magazine

1986 - 1995 features editor, The Independent

1979 - 1986 sports editor, The Independent

1976 - 1979 sports reporter, Extel

1976 trainee reporter, Neath Guardian

Previous Winners

2003 Tony Ball

2002 David Yelland

2001 Michael Jackson

2000 Caroline Marland

1999 Marjorie Scardino

1998 David Elstein

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