Independent editor Chris Blackhurst has emphasised the ‘serious achievement’of overtaking the circulation of The Guardian in an interview with Press Gazette to mark the title’s 25th birthday today.
Since buying The Independent titles in March 2010, the Lebedevs have increased circulation of The Independent through a combination of increasing bulk sales and the launch in October of a slimmed down 20p version of the paper called i.
In August, the main edition of The Independent head a headline circulation of 180,470 (including 75,289 bulks) while i sold 191,077, versus The Guardian sales total of 241,287 (no bulks). This puts the Independent comfortably ahead in terms of overall combined circulation, and narrowly ahead on combined paid-for sale. The Guardian still out-sells The Independent by some margin in terms of full-price copies.
Blackhurst, who took over from Simon Kelner as Independent editor in July , said: ‘The launch of the i was inspired and that brings the scale of our circulation higher than that of The Guardian. That’s a serious achievement and makes us commercially in a better place than some of our rivals judging by their reported losses.”
Asked why he thinks The Independent has survived for 25 years, he said: ‘It’s down to demand for a paper that’s not sworn to anyone party politically and which is called The Independent. One other thing that’s sustained The Independent down the years is it has got some some fantastic specialists and foreign staff and they are still there. I think any editor would bend over backwards to have them, I think they are superb.”
Asked what he thinks the motive is of Evgeny Lebedev owning the paper, he said: ‘He loves owning The Independent. He talks to me about articles, he talks to journalists, he really loves it, but not in any cynical way. I think he loves the intellectual aspect of a newspaper.
‘This thing starts off every day with 88 blank pages and by the end of the day it’s full with a lot of words and arguments and I think he really loves that.”
The Independent and Independent on Sunday currently have around 200 journalists – which is around a third the editorial staff of Guardian News and Media and Times Newspapers.
But despite this, Blackhurst insists that he has sufficient editorial resources to compete with his better funded rivals.
‘As editor I do wonder how on earth The Guardian and The Times are able to justify having that number of staff. What do they all do? The Independent’s journalists are hungry, they are keen, a lot of them are young and they are prepared to go that bit further.
‘I don’t regard it as a problem at all. Our people will work a bit harder and are bit more stretched as a result. Certainly in the two months I’ve been charged I can’t think of any day when I thought ‘I wish we got that story, or gosh they’ve got that. I look at the papers every morning and wonder how they can justify the numbers they have.”
On the subject of the Johan Hari affair, the columnist returns to work next year after admitting plagiarism, Blackhurst said: ‘I’ve been accused of a whitewash and clearing him. He has not in any way been cleared.
‘He was suspended for four months without pay. I don’t know about you but I could not afford to go for four months without pay. So he must be suffering. He has assured us that there is nothing else out there that would majorly damage the Independent’s reputation. If there is something out there that does that, that’s it.”
Blackhurst insisted that the report written by founding editor of The Independent Andreas Whittam Smith into the conduct of Hari had to remain unpublished because it was a private employee disciplinary matter.