MEDIA: Independent needs to get back to broadsheet basics

Round one to Andrew Marr. He has surprised us all. In the brief month of editing the Independent, Marr the enthusiast has managed to get the paper talked about again, which is more than his predecessors, Hargreaves (the plodder) or Wilson (the cynic) ever did.

Round one to Andrew Marr. He has surprised us all. In the brief month of

editing the Independent, Marr the enthusiast has managed to get the

paper talked about again, which is more than his predecessors,

Hargreaves (the plodder) or Wilson (the cynic) ever did.



The rest of Fleet Street is taking note. Paul Dacre, editor of the Daily

Mail, concedes he has made a brilliant start. Best of all, the Guardian,

with most to lose if the Independent were to punch its weight once

again, seems a bit rattled, as if muttering ‘don’t panic, don’t panic’.



Much of this has been achieved, however, by what I can only describe as

gesture journalism. Subtle it ain’t. When front page headlines of the

‘Teaching trainees have the worst A-levels’ school surface you feel

shocked, such is the impact of the Independent’s new game. Authored

columns, Howard Hodgkin on Degas, Polly Toynbee on the nasty Daily Mail

have migrated to the front page. But how many times can you play the

Degas card? Only once I’d say. And this is the problem with gesture

journalism? It is all very fine and dandy, but it is gimmicky window

dressing, and certainly not a recipe for salvation even when you have

the youngest readership in the broadsheet niche.



It needs to be backed up with solid journalism, otherwise a paper which

dares to turn its back on the main story of the day risks looking

amateur. It can even seem to suggest that serious reporting is not the

name of the game, a dangerous by-way for a newspaper of the

Independent’s still highish reputation to turn down.



And this is where Marr’s bravura meets reality. Alas, the new rush of

enthusiasm and confidence cannot disguise the paper’s slender resources,

more suited to the production of a quali-pop tabloid. I am deeply

attached to the paper but the standard of reporting is so variable. Some

stories make me wince, they seem to be written by untrained juniors, yet

they sit next to others produced by seasoned professionals.



There is also a lack of variety and tone, the inevitable consequences of

too many cuts and resignations. The recently introduced arts news page

is fine, but there are many things strangely absent. This is compounded

by the problem of over-writing. The tiny inner core of top writers and

commentators churn out too much. It is getting boring. I long for fresh

voices, especially in the Saturday edition. I don’t need a weekly pep

talk from the editor. And why is the Independent so strangely bereft of

top women feature writers, apart from the over-exposed Toynbee? This gap

is most obvious in the sad tabloid second section.



So the truth is that Marr has a huge mountain to scale which enthusiasm

alone cannot conquer. Funds are limited but he has to find an infusion

of serious talent. The message for the Guardian is clear: no need to

panic...yet.



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