The Independent Digital Archive

The Independent Newspaper has released a digital archive covering 25 years and containing three quarters of a million pages.

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To celebrate the launch of its digital archive, Chris Blackhurst remembers the launch of The Independent and the pioneering path it has forged for over a quarter of a century.

Ever since it was launched into a crowded market in 1986, The Independent has enjoyed a reputation for quality, creativity and innovation.  It showcased a clean, fresh design.  Black and white photography was to be celebrated, not crowded out with newsprint, so there was plenty of white space. Stories were longer than elsewhere with due heed given to original, vivid writing. The paper respected the intelligence of its readers – it did not preach and did not patronise. In tone, it was authoritative and knowing, but also, where power and influence were concerned, questioning and probing. It covered the waterfront of news, but in some areas it was stronger than others. "The Indy", as it soon became known, made politics, business, foreign news, comment and the arts, especially books, its own.

In its early years, The Indy was commented upon and marvelled at as a product of great beauty. Even if someone did not agree with its avowedly liberal heart, they could not deny its ground-breaking aesthetic.  It has still consistently led the field in terms of trying new formats.

It wasn’t just in looks, however, that The Independent sought to put clear space between itself and the opposition. Early on, the paper took a decision to remain outside the Parliamentary lobby system. The Indy would source its statements, and that included from the Prime Minister’s spokesman. If Downing Street was not prepared to let that happen, then so be it – The Independent was not going to deceive its readers by being spoon-fed and not saying so.

Other aspects of journalism that were regarded as acceptable on other titles would not pass muster at the Indy. So the paper paid for its travel features, rather than take “freebies” from holiday operators. Likewise, it paid its own way in restaurants so there was no doubt its reviews were untainted. For a long time too, The Indy resisted allowing its journalists to go on press trips, taking the view that nothing was to be gained from going in a pack and being subjected to PR “spin”. A far better use of the reporter’s time, reasoned The Indy chiefs, was for him or her to be pursuing their own story.

When The Independent on Sunday was born, it introduced to the Sunday market an object of rare beauty – the “Sunday Review”. Until then, there had been Sunday supplements, but this was completely different. It was produced on large-sized paper, its writing was of an exceptionally high standard, and throughout there were the most sumptuous photographs. It combined everything – lifestyle, food and drink, the arts, book reviews – in one, must-keep magazine.

Through the years, other innovations followed. When research showed that readers were looking for a smaller formatted daily paper, one that would fit easily in a briefcase or bag, and could be read comfortably on the train, The Independent took the plunge and went “compact”.

But the introduction of the smaller format was also done in a uniquely, Indy way. Instead of canning the broadsheet shape in favour of the tabloid, for a period they were produced together, side by side. Readers could therefore make the transition gradually, and get used to the new size, and satisfy themselves that it still contained all their favourite sections and writers, before the plug was pulled, finally, on the broadsheet.

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