Many would see today as a sad one for the Independent. The print editions of its weekly and Sunday incarnations will end on the 20th and 26th of March respectively, and many journalists are destined to lose their jobs.
The closely associated newspaper i, which remains profitable, will be sold for £24 million ($34.9 million) to Johnston Press, which owns The Scotsman.
Proceeds from the sale are expected to be poured into growing The Independent’s website. The owner of the Independent titles, Evgeny Lebedev, announced that the sale would enable the Independent to create “25 new content roles, launch a new subscription mobile App, enhance the redesigned, thriving http://independent.co.uk, open new editorial bureaux in Europe, the Middle East and Asia, and invest further in our New York based US operation.”
The Fleet Street newspaper will rebrand itself as an online-only and global publication while retaining its focus on quality, un-biased journalism. Business Insider spoke with Christian Broughton, editor of The Independent’s website about the future of the 30-year-old news organisation.
Business Insider: It’s clearly been a big day at The Independent, how important is this move for the future?
Christian Broughton: This is as bold and exciting a move as ever we’ve made. We’ve got something of a reputation for bold media moves. The foundation of the newspaper itself was pretty bold, a truly independent newspaper was pretty bold back in 1986. Then you know, going compact was something that was pretty bold. Now imitated, obviously. Then ESI media made The Standard free, that was pretty bold. And now here we are, ready to embrace a fully digital only future.
Business Insider: There will have to be a lot of layoffs as a result of the news today, is it pretty tense in the newsroom?
Christian Broughton: People care hugely about The Independent, people love The Independent, so you know, there’s all kinds of emotions on a day like today. We’ve also got to remember that this is a seminal moment in the history of British journalism. We’re the first Fleet Street title to go digital-only and it’s a bold move. We’ve got to remind ourselves why we’re doing it as well. This is a move that secures the future of The Independent and it means we can build the high quality journalism that we all love. And we have to see it in those terms.
Business Insider: Can you explain the thinking behind the decision?
Christian Broughton: It’s a decision really that’s been made by our audience. Our readers are online, they’re reading our digital content and that’s absolutely where the future of The Independent is. It’s an extremely different, it’s an extremely positive future.
Business Insider: Some establishment figures in media have worried for years that online journalism could compromise quality. Is The Independent going to be able to retain its core values and quality journalism?
Christian Broughton: People always associate the web with short form, but the average length of a story on our site is comfortably over 500 words long. We’re very proud of that. We have stuck to our guns. We are a quality news organisation. We’re massively trusted destination for news. We’re innovators, but it’s underpinned by the quality. We’re not going to abandon that now, we’re going to build on it.
I just looked at all the most popular content we’ve had over 2015 and I was really excited by what I saw. The most read piece of content we had last year was a video interview with Nicolas Henin, the french journalist who was captured by ISIS, talking about ISIS and how he thinks it can be defeated. We also had in there the campaigning pieces of journalism we did around the Aylun Kurdi death. It’s all those core things in The Independent, they just work really well online. We haven’t had to change it.
Business Insider: And the plan is to become more of an international news brand, right?
Christian Broughton: We’ve got great international potential. Our content reaches more people in the US than it does in the UK. It’s growing. We’ve always been an outward-looking, curious and caring news brand for people around the world. We haven’t only written about the news that affects the UK. We’re truly global. We’ve got a big global ambition.
Business Insider: Do you see other national print titles following you to online only?
Christian Broughton: I can’t comment on what other people should do, but I think I know what we should do.
Let’s look at the context of the industry: national printed titles. Everyone’s struggling to get to grips with crowded advertising budgets. It’s harmed financial performances around Fleet Street, it’s left many newspaper groups having to make cuts. When you look at the series of announcements that have come out of Fleet Street over the last few months, on the print side of things, times are hard. The print model isn’t working. We are the first to go digital-only, we’re not going to be the last to go digital-only, but we’re absolutely going to embrace this opportunity as a really emphatic moment in our history.
Business Insider: Are your main competitors still established print titles or do you now look at online-only news sites as your rivals?
Christian Broughton: We’ve got the trust and authority of the legacy publishers that have grown up over many, many years, we’re trusted by our readers, we really do stick to the truth. Yet, at the same time, now we’re not going to be compromised. Print and digital and different things. there’s a compromise there. So the digital pure players, you’ll know you work at Business Insider, you’ve got that advantage on the kind of compromise, brands who are trying to do two things at once. You can really innovate, you can really move where you need to get to.
So now we’re going to be the only people who have both the trust and authority of an established news brand and the agility of digital pure player. That’s a truly unique formula.