The Independent: A rollercoaster 23 years

On Friday, Independent News and Media announced that it had entered into a period of exclusive negotiations with Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev.

He now has until 15 February to finalise a deal to acquire The Independent and Independent on Sunday.

If it happens, the deal will mark the latest twist in the rollercoaster 23-history of the The Independent – and 19-year-history of the Independent on Sunday.

The titles have been critically acclaimed over the years, enjoyed periods of circulation success and always been at the forefront of journalism innovation.

Here Press Gazette looks back over some of the highs, and lows, of The Independent and Independent on Sunday:

  • 7 October 1986: The Independent launches to general acclaim as a handsome, authoritative broadsheet.
  • 28 January 1990: Independent on Sunday, a broadsheet with a tabloid business section is launched, edited by Indy founder Stephen Glover. Four months earlier, the Sunday Correspondent had been launched, edited by Peter Cole. The launch of the IoS is a blow to the Correspondent’s chances of success and it folds in November 1992.
  • 1991: Ian Jack is appointed editor of the IoS, succeeding Glover.
  • April 1992: The Independent overtakes the circulation of The Times. The Indy’s sales were 389, 523 compared with The Times 386, 258.
  • October 1993: In a bid to get The Independent’s tanks off its lawn, The Times unleashes the price war. The dramatic move by Rupert Murdoch leaves The Indy standing at 50p, 20p more than The Times. The subsequent drop in The Indy’s circulation and advertising revenue makes it vulnerable to takeover, with key Spanish and Italian investors keen to sell their 38 per cent shareholdings.
  • August 1994: Andreas Whittam Smith and Matthew Symonds leave the paper. Ian Hargreaves appointed editor of The Independent. He joins from the Financial Times where he was deputy editor. In an interview in Press Gazette, Whittam Smith says: “It’s difficult now to imagine how innovative the paper was when it first arrived.”
  • December 1994: Indy moves to Canary Wharf from City Road.
  • March 1995: A poster campaign by The Independent aimed at The Times and Daily Telegraph causes controversy. The poster features mastheads in the style of The Times and The Daily Telegraph which read “The Rupert Murdoch” and “The Conrad Black“. The advertisement carried the end line “The Independent Independent”. The Advertising Standards Authority says it considers “that the advertisement implied incorrectly that The Independent’s shareholders could not affect the newspaper’s editorial policy and asked the advertisers to withdraw the claim.”
  • April 1995: Ian Jack resigns as editor of The Independent on Sunday. Jack is succeeded by Peter Wilby.
  • May 1995: Newspaper Publishing, owner of The Independent and Independent on Sunday restructured. Mirror Group and Tony O’Reilly’s Independent News & Media become joint owners of Newspaper Publishing, each with a 43 per cent stake.
  • January 1996: Hargreaves goes. Charles Wilson takes over as the acting editor of The Independent.
  • March 1996: Forty-two journalists at The Independent and Independent on Sunday made redundant.
  • May 1996: Andrew Marr appointed editor of The Independent. He introduces a short-lived redesign.
  • August 1996: Twenty-seven thousand copies of The Independent were scrapped after a prankster altered the flannel panel on the leader page to credit editor “Charles Wapping”, deputy editor “Mother Theresa of Calcutta” and managing editor “Colin Who”. Other bogus credits included section two editor “Charles Deadbetter”, assistant editor “Simon Says” and, on the board of directors, “St. Andreas Whittam Smith.”
  • February 1998: Rosie Boycott appointed editor of The Independent, the first woman to edit a national broadsheet.
  • March 1998: Independent Newspapers takes full control. O’Reilly bought out the other 54 per cent of the company for £30 million, and assumed the company’s debt. Marr brought back as editor-in-chief to work as “dream team” with Boycott.
  • April 1998: Rosie Boycott leaves to become editor of Daily Express.
  • May 1998: Simon Kelner takes over as editor of The Independent, joining from the editorship of The Mail on Sunday‘s Night & Day section. “The hardest job I’ve got is to raise the morale of a fairly demoralised staff,” said Kelner. “They’ve had a lot thrown at them over the last few years. And what I’ve got to persuade them is that this time it will be different. Well, they’ve been told that a few times before, but this time it WILL be different.”
  • July 1998: Kim Fletcher made editor of Independent on Sunday.
  • July 1999: Fletcher replaced by Janet Street Porter. Kelvin MacKenzie’s verdict? “She couldn’t edit a bus ticket.”
  • August 2000: The Independent moves to Marsh Wall in London Docklands.
  • April 2001: Street Porter made Independent on Sunday editor-at-large. Tristan Davies made editor.
  • September 2003: The Independent produced in dual broadsheet and “compact” formats.
  • January 2004: Saturday Independent goes tabloid.
  • March 2004: The Independent named Newspaper of the Year at the British Press Awards.
  • May 2004: Independent goes totally tabloid.
  • October 2005: Independent on Sunday goes tabloid.
  • April 2006: New second section, Extra introduced.
  • June 2007:Independent on Sunday is relaunched with a news magazine look, in a bid to boost circulation, ditching the multi-section approach in favour of one newspaper and one magazine supplement.
  • December 2007: Tristan Davies leaves the editorship of the Independent on Sunday.
  • January 2008: John Mullin replaces Davies as IoS editor.
  • April 2008: Simon Kelner becomes managing director of The Independent and Independent on Sunday. He is replaced by former Observer editor, Roger Alton. Alton tells Press Gazette that he is ‘absolutely flattered and honoured and privileged and extremely doubtful about whether I am up to the challenge”.
  • August 2008: Independent on Sunday averages just 196,752 copies, its lowest ever monthly circulation.
  • September 2008: The Independent raises its cover price to £1 and goes full colour.
  • October 2008: The Independent hits lowest ever circulation, averaging 201,019 copies each day.
  • November 2008: Ninety jobs are cut at The Independent and Independent on Sunday. Independent News & Media announce this will save around £10 million. Editor Roger Alton forecast ‘carnage’in the newspaper industry over the coming year and said he considered his paper’s falling circulation ‘a terrible personal failure”.
  • December 2008: The Independent on Sunday was the biggest circulation loser among the national Sunday titles – dropping 18.3 per cent year on year to 166,071 copies.
  • January 2009: Russian billionaire Alexander Lebedev is on track to buy a controlling stake in the London Evening Standard – and signals an interest in acquiring the Independent titles.
  • February 2009: Journalists at Independent News and Media voted64 per cent in favour of a strike due to anger at November’s announcement that Independent News and Media was cutting 90 jobs from its two titles, with 60 of those from editorial.
  • March 2009: About 20 journalists at The Independent and Independent on Sunday are served with compulsory redundancy notices. Business and city editor Jeremy Warner leaves The Independent after 23 years to become assistant editor of The Daily Telegraph.
  • April 2009: Both titles relocate from Canary Wharf to the Associated Newspapers‘ headquarters in Kensington.
  • September 2009: Denis O’Brien, the second biggest shareholder in Independent News & Media, calls for a meeting of shareholders to bring about the immediate sale or closure of the Independent and Independent on Sunday. Instead, Gavin O’Reilly wins board support for his debt restructuring proposals. Under the new deal, bondholders owed €200m by INM willl take a 46 per cent stake in the company.
  • Novermber 2009: Sale of The Independent drops 7.2 per cent year on year to 186,557; the Independent on Sunday is down 5.8 per cent to 156,517.
  • December 2009: Independent News & Media confirms it has entered exclusive talks over the sale of The Independent and Independent on Sunday with London Evening Standard owner Alexander Lebedev.

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