Simon Kelner: 'I'm here to stay as Independent editor'

Simon Kelner has insisted that he is not an ‘interim’editor of The Independent, despite a suggestion to the contrary by his boss Evgeny Lebedev to the Financial Times last month.

Kelner told Press Gazette: ‘I’m going to be here until they get sick of me, which may be quite soon – but I hope not.”

Kelner was appointed editor of The Independent in April after serving two years as managing editor and ten years as editor before that.

In an in-depth interview for the June edition of Press Gazette he admitted that the Independent titles would have closed had it not been for the buyout by Alexander Lebedev, which was completed in April.

He said: ‘There’s no doubt about it, if the Lebedevs had not come in this paper would not exist and there were times at the back end of last year when I never thought we’d get it over the line and were going to have to close down.”

Asked whether he feels finally ready to set forth on to the sunlit uplands of recovery, he said: “I feel like we are still sailing across the Bay of Biscay in a rowing boat. I guess I’ll always feel like that. You don’t work for the Independent as long as I’ve worked at The Independent and feel like you are going to be standing at the top of the summit surveying everyone else.”

He added: “We are basically a start-up business. We haven’t got a sister paper in Ireland making millions, or South Africa that will come to our rescue. We have to stand and fall by our own efforts. Whilst it’s a bit scary it’s also very invigorating.”

Hitting back at the suggestion made by rival title The Guardian that new proprietor Lebedev will seek to influence editorial content, he said: ‘The Lebedevs are fiercely committed to maintaining the Independence of the Independent. The Guardian can say what it likes but we are as free from proprietorial influence today as we have ever been…

“It’s fair enough for The Guardian to have a go at the Lebedevs but what would they prefer. Would they prefer the only other liberal newspaper in Britain to close down and put 200 journalists out of work?”

Of Lebedev’s 30-year-old son Evgeny, who is in charge of The Independent titles, he said: ‘Evgeny wants the paper to be high-minded and principled. I think those are very noble aims. I think it should also be entertaining and it should still have an attitude while not ramming its opinion’s down people’s throats.”

Kelner declined to be drawn on whether the title would be going free, as he said the new management were in the early stages of drawing up a business plan. But he did say that they were looking at new publishing models which would give The Independent a sustainable future.

The full interview appears in the June edition of Press Gazette magazine.

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