Two into one doesn’t go. If ever further proof were needed that
operations owned by two equal corporate partners were destined for short
and troubled lives, the Mirror Group’s extrication from its 46 per cent
stake in the ailing Independent titles is it. Zenith take note.
The fact that, barring any last-minute hitches, the Independent and
Independent on Sunday are to be owned by a single shareholder is good
news for everyone. Mirror Group shareholders are celebrating as the
value of their stock climbs on the news that the loss-making titles are
being ditched; Tony O’Reilly has finally got his wish to be a serious
media player in the UK; Andrew Marr has his job back and the rest of the
journalists on the papers’ payroll are looking forward to some proper
investment and a single-minded bid to give the daily title, in
particular, a clear positioning.
No longer will the Mirror Group chief executive David Montgomery’s
vision clash with that of his editor and his joint partner. Montgomery’s
mid-market ambitions have been banished along with his abrasive
management style. O’Reilly, by all accounts, wants to restore the
Independent to the upmarket role it enjoyed under its launch editor,
Andreas Whittam Smith.
This, in turn, should make advertisers happy.
It could be argued that, despite the cut-throat price wars that bedevil
the broadsheet market these days, the gap at the top end is even larger
than it was during Whittam Smith’s glorious reign in the late 80s. As
the Times, the Daily Telegraph and the Guardian have broadened their
appeal, they have left the upmarket niche unoccupied. If the Independent
can fill that space, it could well win back a special place for itself
on certain advertisers’ press buying schedules.
Of course, this was also the place Marr wanted to take the paper. The
problem was that, under Montgomery, he didn’t have any real resource
with which to do it. Now Marr - in charge of comment and analysis - and
his successor as editor, Rosie Boycott, will benefit from a promised
pounds 20 million investment by O’Reilly over the next four years.
I know it’s been said many times before, but it beats me how anyone can
contest the fact that editorial investment is the only way for a
national newspaper publisher to succeed in the long term. The cases of
the Daily Mail, in particular, but also of the Financial Times and the
Sunday Times, provide indisputable evidence. As, from the other side of
the tracks, does the Independent.
So O’Reilly is bringing sound tactics to the Independent titles. The
only doubt can be over his strategy. Is that upmarket niche really big
enough - and, more importantly, profitable enough - to sustain a
national newspaper in the late 90s? At least now we’ll get a proper
answer to this question. The Independent has a genuine chance again.
Claire Beale is away