September’s newspaper ABCs make fascinating reading - especially as
they cover the Diana period. Not surprisingly, it was a cracking month
for the nationals. Barring the Star and the Sport, they are all up, with
the Independent, which also relaunched on 16 September, achieving one of
the biggest rises.
Again, not surprisingly, there is much crowing from Canary Wharf about
the paper’s 12 per cent gain, trotting out the usual flannel about the
new ’fresher and sharper’ look and the ’positive reaction’ from
Yet it may not be all that much to write home about. All the other
qualities recorded significant gains (its closest competitor, the
Guardian, was up 10.6 per cent, the Times 7 per cent, the Financial
Times 5.7 per cent and the Telegraph 4 per cent). On top of that, the
Independent spent heavily on TV and outdoor and upped its bulks from
14,000 in September 1996 to 25,000 last month, all of which takes off
some of the gilt. In this context, talk of a 12 per cent rise should be
prefaced with the word ’only’.
The real test must, therefore, come this month, when we will see whether
the paper can hang on to its increased sale now that the advertising
campaign has been halted.
If the rumours that the editor, Andrew Marr, is increasingly beleaguered
are true, then it may be that October will indeed prove to be a
Yet relaunches are always difficult to judge. The more radical they are,
the longer they take to come good - as the Guardian found out in 1988 -
which is why instant punditry should sometimes be avoided. In this case,
the Independent’s latest relaunch (is that six or ten now? I’ve lost
count) was radical with a capital R.
My own view is that it was too radical, even though I could understand
the process by which Marr got there. In fact, all his bold words about
filling the pages with analysis rather than news (which, since news is
labour-intensive and analysis isn’t, is one way of rationalising a cut
in the number of reporting staff) were rendered hollow by the public’s
appetite for news of the Diana tragedy - as evidenced by September’s
sales. The result? An intense, wordy, sanitised paper that looks
forbidding and doesn’t really stand for anything, plus a weedy second
section that looks like a cheap listings handout.
For my part, the problem is crystallised by the front page, the most
daring part of the redesign, which eschews conventional news for an
extended piece of analysis. But by its nature, analysis is cold and
dispassionate - the antithesis of the buzz that newspapers are about and
which makes people buy one paper rather than another.
So, if October does indeed turn out to be a bad month for the
Independent, the paper is faced with a dilemma. Does it relaunch again,
or does it stick with it, increase the ad budget and hope it comes good?
Sounds like a good piece of analysis to me.