Independent on Sunday editor bemoans people buying coffee over paper

A culture in which people are more willing to pay for overpriced coffee than a newspaper ensured the downfall of the Independent papers after three decades in print, a senior executive has said.

Lisa Markwell, editor of the Independent on Sunday, paid tribute to the Lebedev family for their investment in the titles since 2010, but said the news industry must search its soul to find a sustainable way of doing business in a changing media environment.

“We have always found it terribly depressing that people will happily pay £3.70 for an appalling coffee from a takeout place and yet they won’t pay £1.60 or £2.20 on a Sunday for what is in effect a novel’s worth of terrific writing,” Markwell told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Saturday.

“But that’s where we are, and I think all news organisations have to accept that that’s the way things are going. Taking all that online and people not paying anything for that is a very difficult business model.

“We are in a real state of flux with how it works because people with huge online presences like the Guardian haven’t made any money. So really, this is a very important point at which I think organisations have to look at what are people willing to pay for.”

Evgeny Lebedev confirmed on Friday that the Independent and Independent on Sunday will cease printing in late March and cut-price national stablemate i will be sold off to Johnston Press.

Lebedev attempted to position the closure of the Independent as a bold transition to a digital-only future, a position echoed by its editor, Amol Rajan, who wrote of “huge, global ambitions for our website” in a column in Saturday’s edition.

“Having sold our stablemate title, i, they [the Lebedevs] have the chance to fund the next chapter in our story,” Rajan wrote. “In plotting the next few years, it makes sense for them to invest that money in the digital product. To that end we are launching new bureaux across the world and a new subscription mobile app.”

Including regular casual staff, it is thought that there will be about 110 redundancies across the Independent titles, although the number that end up losing their jobs could be ameliorated as 25 new roles are being created to boost, and the i’s new owner is seeking 34 more staff.

Markwell said it would make sense for the online-only title to retain many of the heavy-hitting writers that had brought value to the Independent brand, such as Middle East experts Patrick Cockburn and Robert Fisk.

Despite the different challenges of online journalism, she was confident that print-focused staff would be able to make the transition. “We are as a trade quite fleet of foot,” Markwell said. “We will figure out how to do it and lots of people will make that change very easily.”

However, one Independent journalist said colleagues on the paper were cynical about an online-only future and what that would mean for the organisation’s journalistic standards.

The journalist said: “The print team are wary of the website, because the perception is that its senior editors and execs too often want to chase hits in a way that undermines editorial judgment.

“Whereas the paper focuses on quality, the web leans towards quantity, and has far less original journalism.”

There had been “profound shock and sadness” when staff heard the news of the closure of the print titles, with the success of the i and reduction in financial losses lulling many into a sense that things were finally stabilising.

“It feels like a family bereavement. But I’m sure everyone will pull together for the next six weeks to go out proudly,” the journalist said.

comments powered by Disqus