Goodbye To Our Independent...


Isn’t it too soon for me to be saying “that’s not how it was in my day!” But, alas, these are the days we live in. I’m told (mostly by women’s magazines) that 30 is the new 20…and apparently the new 60 too.

When I was studying print journalism (not long-ago enough for it to have become the outdated mode that it is today, but a little too long-ago for me to care to admit) there was no social media. Facebook and Twitter only launched to the public in my last year of university (I had a MySpace page that briefly held my attention…it was the post-teen equivalent of how I used to cover my books in high school and I really hope it is not still available online somewhere). Anyway, for the most part, student aspirations were still to somehow wriggle their way in to a job at a national newspaper.

I love the papers. Everything about them; how I still struggle for the perfect fold while reading a broadsheet, and will only read a tabloid indoors where no-one can see; the snobbery and social status of what you read on your way to work on the underground (yes there were days when the Metro…or scrolling through your mobile…never existed), the Sunday magazines all wrapped up in plastic and the crosswords that I never ever understand.

The truth is I can’t remember the last time I bought a newspaper. So I guess I’m that type of hypocritical nostalgic snob that just likes to complain about losing something I haven’t supported for a long time.

Today, The Independent newspaper announced that from the 26th March its print edition will be no more.

It’s the first national paper in the UK to make the move. I’m sure it won’t be the last, and that in the very soon to be future (much quicker than the time it took for 30 to become 20 and 60) there will be none left at all; except the free ones we get on the underground and maybe some bumper weekend editions, for us nostalgic types who actually still buy the Sunday papers.

 The first edition of The Independent on Tuesday 7 October 1986 

The first edition of The Independent on Tuesday 7 October 1986 

It says a lot that the most successful newspaper of recent years has been the Metro (free to read, expensive to advertise). As Roy Greenslade wrote this morning (I read his blog online…obviously) “print, which continues to attract much more advertising revenue than digital, is not dead yet. But even in its death throes it generates cash.”

It might not be dead. But it is definitely over.

It’s sad, but inevitable.

Last night, Brian Cathcart reminded that  “the Independent ceasing to print would be the death of a medium, not of a message…the grand tradition of printed newspapers is coming to an end, but the diversity of voices in the public space is growing”

That’s true. We have gained so much from the diversity of voices; both the introduction of large “alternative media” outfits, the “citizen journalism” that social media spaces have created and everything in between.

It is a new day (one in which you can squeeze a years worth of print news in to a 24-hour twitter cycle).

I’m currently re-reading “How the World Works” by Noam Chomsky. In “What Uncle Sam Really Wants” (published in 1992) the traditional relationship between press and politics is laid honestly bare. Then, a political narrative was easy to sell, exactly because our newspapers were easy to sell. The world was constrained to what our politicians told us, and the limited views our half an hour of TV news and 50-odd pages of newspaper reported. The intellects amongst us were those who were educated enough to be this ignorant.

For many, that is still the case. But things are not that simple anymore. Today, even these organs we know as “the mainstream press” have been forced to change. There are new kids on the block. While some are slick and diluted (I’m thinking Al Jazeera), most simply haven’t learnt the art of subtlety (I’m thinking Press TV and RT). For that reason it becomes easy to criticise their “propaganda” over the slick performance of the traditional mainstream, with it decades of experience honing the skills they created.

Either way, the genie is out of the bottle. The narratives are out there; and the differences are too stark to ignore. And on top of that, the consumers have had the audacity to become the creators; ordinary people! Filming live, editing for free and expressing their very own opinions…en masse…and all from their mobile phones.

This week was the anniversary of the 37th Iranian revolution. I always reflect on what the narrative of that revolution could have been if it existed within the changing dynamic of the media today. In 1979 it was easy to create the narrative that has ultimately prevailed, and that curbs all of us when we talk about Iran. But what if it was today? We would have seen millions of Iranians out on the street, in live rolling coverage on the BBC, and many more millions taking to twitter. If we had seen the Iranians, set up camp and be shot dead, like we did in Egypt. If we had known them as our Facebook friends and not strange radicals, how far could they have stretched the narrative then?

 Iran's "Tahrir Square"? This iconic square was called the "Kings Tower" before the revolution and "Freedom Tower" afterwards.

Iran's "Tahrir Square"? This iconic square was called the "Kings Tower" before the revolution and "Freedom Tower" afterwards.

Of course, all this change has its negatives (I’ll just say Kim Kardashian and leave it there). The pace of the change is so fast, none of us can keep up. And as we run, panting to keep pace, vital journalistic skills and principles are dropping from our bags and being left behind on the curb.

Yes, perhaps it is historically true that these skills and principles have been misused for slick propaganda, but they are still the foundations of the serious work that can change the world, by a single individual; the journalist.

But today, it seems more and more, even the simple things, like fact and source checking no longer exist. And as the pressure for instant news sourcing intensifies it is only getting worse.  A Syrian child killed by Assad can be shared a million times on Facebook and picked up by all the mainstream press, before we realise it is fake.

When I see things that raise my eyebrows online, I usually go to the established outlets to see if they have run the story too…but as we erode these principles, who will actually be responsible for what is factual anymore?

To be honest, even as I mourn the end of the Independent as a newspaper, I wonder what will be left when it’s done? The tripe and click bait that it floods on my Facebook timeline? On its social media, the Independent has turned in to a bad attempt at the Daily Mail. I really hope as we lose more of our newspapers, the future of what we are leaving behind isn’t that.