I knew, the minute my job was first mooted, on the steps of San Francesco church in the sun-drenched, mafia-infested Sicilian town of Noto, that I would be the last editor of the (printed) Independent. This fact was reinforced at 17.21 on my first day, when the daily email from our circulation department put the figure for our paid-for circulation at 42,000. The closure of the Independent’s print edition was a long time coming but that doesn’t stop it being a painful shock. Introspection is inevitable. Was it my fault? How did I do?
There are three parts to the job these days — editorial, commercial, digital — and one golden rule: in poor newspapers, the commercial guys call the shots; in rich ones, the editorial guys do. Editorially, I had wanted to revive the spirit of our founding fathers in 1986. I buried myself in the archives to understand what that paper was all about. Our founders’ motto — ‘classic with a twist’ — found expression in a new masthead and I think we sometimes achieved the sense of Whiggish mischief and optimism that they embodied. Commercially, we were losing nearly £13 million when I started. I got that down to under £5 million in my first year, halved that in my second year, and this year was heading for further improvement. So why close? Simple. A deal happened.
Project Eagle, as we codenamed the transaction, is testament to the vision of our proprietors the Lebedevs and our former managing director, Andy Mullins, in inventing the brilliant i, which will stay in print while the Independent continues online. Under Christian Broughton, the editor of Independent Digital, our transformation has been astonishing. We were the fastest-growing quality news site in the UK over the past three years.