The Independent 'needs to be bold'

The Independent newspaper is experiencing some interesting times.

Independent chairman Evgeny Lebedev
Independent chairman Evgeny Lebedev

It has a brand new editor, a fairly new owner, challenging circulation figures, and has just suspended star columnist Johann Hari over allegations of plagiarism.

Three weeks ago, Chris Blackhurst was appointed editor, replacing Simon Kelner, who has become editor-in-chief with no involvement in the day-to-day running of the paper.

Blackhurst said it was too early to share his plans for the paper with PRWeek. But PR professionals are hoping the former City editor at the London Evening Standard, and deputy editor of The Independent ten years ago, will be able to give the newspaper an overhaul. Given that the newspaper's owner Alexander Lebedev recently admitted the paper was 'a bit boring', they might be in luck.

Kate McFerran, head of corporate at 3 Monkeys, says: 'Chris Blackhurst has the opportunity to reinvent the paper. We need to see thought-provoking articles, exclusives, strong supplements and regular columns written by journalists who can make the most of the paper's non-partisan ideals.' She adds: 'The paper needs to jettison what has become its trademark "vanilla" approach to news gathering and do something bold.'

Alan Twigg, Seventy Seven PR managing partner, agrees: 'With such strong competition in the broadsheet sector, the new editor needs to find a much more distinct positioning for its news and political stance to build the overall gravitas of a generally well delivered and attractive product.'

Despite these concerns, PR agencies and clients still value getting stories into The Independent. Twigg says it is possible to get a dialogue going with the journalists. 'Our team deems them "always a good call to make",' he says. 'They are usually good people to sell into - you can get into sensible dialogue together which isn't always the case with other national titles.'

But Hamish Thompson, MD, Twelve Thirty Eight, says The Independent is a harder paper to get a handle on than any of the other nationals: 'From a PR perspective, in my experience it's a pretty tough nut to crack.' His successes have often been with environmental stories, while Twigg says the lifestyle sections are also good to target.

But if The Independent is to retain its value for PROs, McFerran argues it is badly in need of a change. 'It has the look of a paper that has lost its way. In an age when information currency is more important than ever before, The Indy appears sadly bereft of newsworthiness, taking a soft feature-led approach to its stories even in the early general news section,' she says.

The Independent certainly needs to be forward-looking to survive, says Twigg: 'Its future is like all of the nationals - dependent upon innovation and knowing how to balance the traditional with the online as we move forward.'

 

The Independent

Quick facts
Price: £1
Frequency: Daily (Mon-Sat)
Publisher: Independent Print
Circulation: 178,700 (May ABCs)
Independent.co.uk unique users: 15.7 million (May ABCes)
Contact:
News desk newseditor@independent.co.uk
Features features@independent.co.uk
General switchboard 020 7005 2000

 

A MINUTE WITH ... Chris Blackhurst, editor, The Independent

Chris Blackhurst

What advice can you give to PR professionals trying to get coverage in The Independent?

Think of The Independent. Will the story you're offering fit in with its editorial mix, and is it interesting? If you can't answer yes to these, don't bother.

Who should PROs contact if they have a story?

If PROs think they have a good story, they can email the head of department, or get in touch with a byline journalist they think is appropriate for their story directly.

What is the best time to make contact?

If they are getting in touch by email, then any time is good. If they are phoning, then late morning is the best time to call.

How do you prefer to be contacted?

By email or via my office is the easiest way to get hold of me.

What are the deadlines for the newspaper?

The paper is entirely closed by 8pm. Anything coming in after 6pm is, realistically, not likely to make it for the following day. The team has a morning conference at 10am every day and editors draw up their news list between 8am and 10am.

How does the website fit in with the print content?

It is updated constantly throughout the day. It also has exclusive web content.

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