I’m stuck in Paris, trying to get on a flight and head home to Florida so I’m looking for something new on the newsstand. How about the UK’s The Independent – just relaunched after being bought by the Russian businessman Alexander Lebedev last month? I’ve just seen the first copy while walking down Rue de Rivoli. What’s different? The headline on page one today is “Sack Goldmans!”. This is not the opinion page, mind you. Somehow, I am not surprised about the “here is my view on Page One” approach to newspapering.
Lately, you see more of this “viewpaper” concept (in fact, The Independent calls its daily supplement almost just that; Viewspaper), especially in markets where it is bloody competitive, as in Britain. In such places, newspapers jockey for identity positions then get out of the gate with one of three possible focuses. There is the newspaper that swears to be traditional and objective and goes with the boring headline of the day. Then there are the downmarket tabloids screaming, playing with words and sometimes lying through their teeth in the process (but they titillate, know their audience and go for it with gusto!) That leaves one hard-to-touch category out there: the newspaper that has a view and puts it right there on page one. To hear editors of these newspapers tell it, they want to be like The Economist. But don’t believe it for a moment, Economists they are not.
The Economist offers you a cover “view” that it expands upon on its leader page. We buy The Economist to read its leader column but we don’t buy the daily newspaper to see an editor’s opinion on page one. Or do we?
This viewpaper formula could work, but it will require a tremendous effort, in my view. There is a very fine line between the headline of the viewpaper with power and the tabloid that titillates, and if the editor crosses it, then it may easily backfire. A newspaper that can do The Economist daily on page one, well, that is a different story, and one that I am waiting eagerly to see.
In fact, this “redesign” of The Independent, by Cases & Associates of Barcelona, is a radical departure from the more downmarket look the newspaper had until recently. It is a back-to-the future look. This is what The Independent looked like the last time that it was redesigned. Then, someone must have decided that it needed to be less classic, abandon gravitas and become more of the newspaper for the mechanic with the dirty fingernails. Well, the soap and the washcloth are out and opinionated gravitas is back on page one thanks to the skilled editor-in-chief Simon Kelner.
Not enough mechanics must have fallen for The Independent that was, so now we see an elegant design that is more likely to appeal to professionals. That’s a much classier offering. We hope that enough of them gravitate towards a front page with an opinionated message that they may or may not agree with. Independent but opinionated is their message, and its one that might well echo in the offices of other grown-up newspapers in the near future as you hear the rustle of the reshuffle.