MEDIA: 'The Indy has to innovate to keep up'

When Roger Alton officially takes over as editor of The Independent on 1 July, he will have little time to settle in.

The Independent: faces huge changes
The Independent: faces huge changes

Media critics are hovering, waiting to see if the former Observer editor can reverse the decline of what one PRO calls 'the Lib Dem of newspapers'. Even outgoing editor Simon Kelner criticised the newspaper in a recent interview, calling the front page 'occasionally boring'.

Last month's ABC figures put The Indy's circulation at 240,503, which is in stark contrast to The Times' 626,401.

Alton is keen to remind naysayers that The Independent is remarkably successful given its age - it was launched in 1986, making it the youngest of the dailies.

This does not, however, explain why the paper has failed to embrace the web. Its site is miles behind web trailblazers The Guardian and The Telegraph, with little interactivity compared with the buzz of The Guardian's 'Comment is free' or the Telegraph's many blogs.

'Alton has a massive task ahead of him,' says Lewis PR associate director Will Sturgeon, a former journalist. '"Dull but worthy" is not a niche that readers tend to flock to, online or offline.

The BBC news website owns the middle ground between Guardian.co.uk and Telegraph.co.uk. What is there about The Independent that would discourage readers from looking elsewhere for online news?' he asks.

While critical of the paper's apparent lack of interest in the online format, Chatsworth Communications founder Nick Murray-Leslie is impressed by The Indy's influence relative to its size. 'For a smaller staff base it provides solid news coverage, similar to ITN when compared with the sprawling BBC,' he says.

However, Murray-Leslie believes The Independent's real value in PR terms lies in its championing of contentious issues. In February, the paper stepped in to petition Afghanistan's president Hamid Karzai, appealing for the overturn of a death sentence for a journalist who was accused of downloading a report on women's rights.

Other Independent campaigns focus on more pedestrian leftist concerns, such as waste from excess packaging - clearly the sort of topic to which PROs can contribute on behalf of clients.

'Campaigning is always a risky strategy but remains a real point of differentiation,' says Murray-Leslie. 'It clearly gets up some people's noses - but that is a good thing.'

Fishburn Hedges director Jason Nisse - the former City editor of sister title The Independent on Sunday - identifies change as Roger Alton's first priority: 'With a much lower headcount than its main rivals, and less money to spend on buying in articles from top writers, The Indy has to innovate to keep up.'

QUICK FACTS
Frequency: Daily
Circulation: 240,503 (ABCs May 2008)

Contacts
Editor
Roger Alton
020 7005 2000
r.alton@independent.co.uk

Pandora editor
Henry Deedes
020 7005 2374
h.deedes@independent.co.uk


A MINUTE WITH ... Roger Alton, Editor, The Independent
Can you give us a hint of what is to come when you start as editor?
Roger AltonRight now there is a new management team, commercially and editorially, and that will inevitably lead to a refocusing of the paper.

Are you open to PR pitches?
I am a great fan of PR and know many PROs very well. But maybe it is silly for someone I have never met to ring me up as if we've just got out of bed together, saying, 'Hi Roger, it's Cindy here ...' On the other hand, if it's 'Hi Roger, it's Cindy here, we wonder if you'd like to go hot air ballooning in the Maldives with Angelina Jolie?', that doesn't sound too bad.

Why do you think The Indy's website isn't as popular as some of its rival papers' online versions?
The main carrier of the brand is the newspaper titles, and that will continue. However, there are exciting prospects on the web that can develop the paper's strengths in top-level reporting of the arts, environment and sport.

Before commenting please read our rules for commenting on articles.

If you see a comment you find offensive, you can flag it as inappropriate. In the top right-hand corner of an individual comment, you will see 'flag as inappropriate'. Clicking this prompts us to review the comment. For further information see our rules for commenting on articles.

comments powered by Disqus

Latest Articles

Max Clifford trial jury to reconvene tomorrow after majority verdicts direction

Max Clifford trial jury to reconvene tomorrow after majority verdicts direction

The jury in the trial of celebrity publicist Max Clifford on 11 charges of indecent assault has been sent home for the day after being told by the judge earlier this afternoon that he will now accept majority verdicts.

Labour "fooling themselves" over plans to combat attacks on Miliband

Labour "fooling themselves" over plans to combat attacks on Miliband

Conservative-leaning public affairs experts have questioned the value of Labour's adoption of US-style campaigning tactics in the wake of the opposition hiring election strategist David Axelrod.

PLMR appoints Professor Tim Morris as non-executive director

The vet who helped establish the British Horseracing Authority's anti-doping and animal welfare programme has joined PLMR as a non-executive director.