Media: How The Indy has evolved to survive

Life has been far from plain sailing at The Independent in recent times. A price hike, falling circulation, editorial job cuts and persistent rumours of a sell-off have all dogged editor Roger Alton's stint in charge.

'The current environment for newspapers is shocking,' says Alton. 'I don't think anybody in the industry has ever seen anything like it.'

Alton was brought in to revamp the UK's lowest-selling quality daily last June, but has struggled to swim against the economic tide. When he cut 90 staff and took the editorial team down to around 170 last November, Alton told Sky News he felt 'terrible personal failure'.

Add in The Indy's cost-cutting move to share office space with the Daily Mail and persistent rumours that owner Independent News & Media is looking at a cut-price sale, and the future looks uncertain.

January ABC circulation figures show a 14 per cent year-on-year drop - but there are glimmers of hope the paper is over the worst. Its circulation is heading back up, having bottomed out at 200,000 for three months following a cover price hike to £1.

Its website is also being revamped. The paper signed a deal last month to run al-Jazeera English video news reports to boost its online presence, following on the heels of a similar contract with France 24. 'The website has shown enormous gains recently,' says Alton.

These partnerships not only complement the paper's efforts to raise the profile of its online presence, but reflect its global outlook.

Jason Nisse, director at Fishburn Hedges and ex-City editor at The Independent on Sunday, says: 'The Independent provides a good international perspective. If you're pitching a story about global issues you are likely to get as good a hearing from them as at any other paper.'

The Independent also sees itself as a campaigning paper and PROs can find the team willing to back issues-led stories over several editions.

Suzanne Stevenson, press and PR manager at disability charity Scope, pitched a report on hate crime against disabled people and secured a front page and double page spread.

'The paper is generally more open to highlighting issues such as disability hate crime that are often ignored by the mainstream news agenda,' she points out.

In this sense the paper has evolved from its centrist stance to being more in tune with urban, liberal professionals. 'If a client wants to reach an intelligent, informed and largely South East-based demographic, The Independent is a fantastic place to do that,' says Olly Scott, account director at Bell Pottinger Corporate & Financial.

The Independent may be struggling, but Scott notes the depth of coverage The Independent provides, rather than the breadth, means it simply cannot be ignored.

A MINUTE WITH ... ROGER ALTON, EDITOR, THE INDEPENDENT

- How badly has the recession hit you so far?

We have had a rough time recently. We had a big price rise last year, but we're weathering that now. I remain committed to producing material in news print format. We have a talented team here and if people don't buy the paper I will have failed.

- What do you see as The Indy's key strengths?

We have very independent and fine opinion writers and are good at consumer and health stories, the arts, and issues such as the environment - although green issues are lower down people's thinking now we're in a recession.

- Has your website now become a priority?

We take online content seriously and have been successful in revamping that recently. The web and print editions need to be unified.

- Any advice for PROs?

Be economical with time and words and make sure the person pitching has a very clear idea of the paper and where their story would work best. We still get too many calls from PROs pitching utterly inappropriate ideas.

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