Newspaper Review: “i” from The Independent

I’m a media geek with a penchant for borrowed nostalgia; an obsessive Twitter user with a love of newsprint. And despite doing my best to write for national publications I’ve, ahem, fallen out of the habit of paying for the damn things.

Battle of the breakfast table: the family divides

i“, the new slimline version of The Independent, is an attempt to capture my generation – an age bracket that haven’t so much stopped buying newspapers as were never introduced to the habit. Amongst friends here at Oxford I’d suggest that written news intake is roughly 50% BBC News website, 20% Guardian website, 10% Daily Mail website [those pap pics are so addictive] and 10% links from Facebook with the rest split between picking up a newspaper in the common room and assorted blogs.

Paper sales to individual students are almost non-existent: newsagents are for chocolate and fags.

It’s a bold decision to launch a new newspaper now, especially one that forks a core product. The Independent costs £1, already has an established readership and enjoys strong brand recognition. The new version is a financial and brand risk. I want it to succeed, both as a reward for Lebedev’s chutzpah and in the hope that someone can find a working model for a modern newspaper. So can “i” convince me to pop into the newsagents every morning? Let’s see:

  • The pitch
  • “Colourful and accessible, concise and intelligent, it’s your essential daily briefing”.
    So far, so Metro. But if the words have weight behind them then I’m interested. By the time I get to the newsagents to buy a copy I’ll probably have scanned the BBC News headlines on my BlackBerry and know what’s going on. If I pay, I want content that I can’t get for free on my phone. If it contains more than agency copy then I’ll be tempted to buy it for a journey: anything to escape the cute animal pics and dreary writing found in the freesheets.

    Phwoar, check out that new publication

  • Name
    A hard pitch since it has to retain the link with the parent newspaper but emphasise youth, brevity and the like. I reckon it’s a grower. But there’s a few problems: one of them is the complete inability to Google the paper. Another is that asking someone whether they saw “that story in i yesterday” doesn’t roll off the tongue. And crucially I’m still not sure how to type it: bold, italicised, however I like it? Even the Indy’s own website struggles with the formatting:
  • The price
  • I hesitate before paying a quid for a weekday newspaper and I adore the things: for most students paying anything for news is a strange concept. It’s not the price: it’s the fact it requires any money to exchange hands or effort to obtain. Added to which in student areas The Times and Indy are often available at heavily discounted prices – when I lived in Manchester I never paid more than 30p for a copy of The Guardian. The Oxford Union has all the quality nationals available at similar prices.

A lengthy report on new historical discoveries in German archives (left) becomes a NIB in i (right). I’d be worried if I was a foreign correspondent at IN&M.

  • Marketing
    If it it were not for my close-reading of MediaGuardian then I would never have heard of it. I’m not sure how I’d sell it to less media-aware friends. The man who runs Amit & Ajatores newsagent on Cowley Road was equally bemused: “What is it? It arrived this morning without any warning. At first I thought I was supposed to put copies of it inside The Independent.”
  • First impressions
    Ultra-colourful, a cheerful design and the most eye catching headline asks “Is Bert gay?” – it’s definitely more at home in the mid-market. But it’s 56 pages for 20p with a few articles that are worth that alone. 

    There’s a bit too much of the ‘wacky graphics boxes’ and entertainment news but it suits the market.

    It’s also pretty clear that i isn’t in competition with its mother paper.

Same words, different article. i on the left, Indy on the right.

  • Design
    While the matriarch has chosen to go all black-and-white for its relaunch (just to emphasise the difference, today’s Indy has a ponderous Robert Fisk article on its cover, beneath a a chunky stone tablet), in design terms  i is midway between Metro and The Evening Standard. 

    There’s a bit too much of the former’s reliance on stock photos of celebs but they’ve squeezed some quality content into the colourful mould – almost as though they’re trying to trick the audience.

  • Content
    Mainly sliced ‘n’ diced versions of Indy news stories, edited down to fit. The subbing changes are telling. Emphasis is moved to the start. More adjectives in the opening line. The final 200 words of waffling context is always lopped off. 

    Johann Hari’s piece entitled “Why Obama disappoints us so much” gains a chunky colour photo of the man, loses a few hundred words and becomes “I wept when Obama was elected. So why do I feel let down now?”

    Exclusive content includes a two page feature on Mel Gibson’s recent travails.

    While the main paper has a two page science feature on a new collection of preserved prehistoric insects, i has a similar-sized health spread imploring us to try ‘thinking like a child’.

    Lengthy letters from worthy dons have been replaced with Tweets, texts and brief emails.

  • What’s missing
    The politics. Swathes of The Indy‘s news section dealing with the funding gaps, pensions and the fine print of the Spending Review don’t make the cut, even in edited form. 

    Comment only manages to get one article across the divide – though it’s pleasant to read a fairly well argued piece in a true tabloid.

    Most of the stuff that is in broadsheets for no better reason than it always has been – think chess columns, horse racing form, obituaries – is out.

    Anything lengthy. I want a bit more meat on my stories, more than the headline and some background. There just isn’t much in the way of analysis or content to pieces beyond the headline and opening couple of paragraphs. It’s a 20-minute read.

The much-vaunted ‘news matrix’ is quite easy to skip: but it does create a feeling that ‘stuff is happening’. Not really aimed at the news junkie: you’ll probably have already seen most of it elsewhere.

  • The future
    Remember the mp3 chart? Launched in 2004 it was an attempt to register sales of digital downloads, separately from the physical release-only Singles Chart. It was quickly apparent that the division was completely arbitrary and within a year the two were merged, with digital downloads now making up over 95% of sales. 

    Given that there was discussion of The Indy following Lebedev’s Evening Standard and going free nationwide, it’s hard to see i as anything other than a stop-gap to a future merger – a way of testing the water for a heavily discounted (or free) relaunch of the main paper at some point in the near future.

    The Independent, once every graphic designer’s dream paper, has become a more authorial read – but to to tell the truth, it feels quite heavy going in comparison. I envisage sort of halfway house between the two papers with a briefer news in the style of i with the lovingly produced Viewspaper supplement in the middle.

I doubt I’ll be buying it regularly – probably only if I’m on a short journey. But there’s potential to get i right, especially on commuter routes outside the saturated South-East. And don’t be surprised if the main paper smartly follows its lead at the first hint that this business model could work. Good luck to them. And, er, gizza job?

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14 Responses to Newspaper Review: “i” from The Independent

  1. Steven says:

    Great review… enjoyed reading it – but why on earth is it written in that ghastly font? Really annoying.

    • Jim says:

      Oh my, the perils of sharing a blog. It’s all changed since I last posted here.

      Sorry about that, will change it to something a bit clearer.

  2. seandodson says:

    Excellent work. Really good analysis

  3. Nice report here. Will be looking to see how this fares in today’s world.

  4. Pingback: What they think: i, Indy’s little brother | Media Digest

  5. granolacruncher says:

    Can’t google it? Try “i newspaper”

    • hitparade says:

      Even that still brings up WordPress themes, foreign sites and speculation about Apple.

      Sure, it’ll change as the Google crawler gets to work but it’s a bit generic for the web – though this probably isn’t a problem for a website-free, physical paper that’s about providing a news digest.

  6. Mullegun says:

    It’s a good look. Don’t know why people assume it’s only competition for the Indy, that the Indy must stuffer for i to be successful.

    Off topic; “Same words, different article. i on the left, Indy on the right.”
    The headline in “I” answers the question posed by the headline in the Indy.
    Obama’s not responsible for emotion fuelled stratospheric expectations.

  7. Andy says:

    Found your link in a Guardian comment – good blog. I’ll be looking out for i (is that how we’re meant to refer to it?), on Cowley Road too as it happens.

  8. Andy says:

    FYI, if you want a copy at 6 o’clock in the morning, Cowley Road Tesco won’t bother to get you one from their delivered bundles but ‘Booze and News’ on St Clements will.

    It was exactly the right length to read from front to back for the journey from Oxford to London (with the puzzles still to do at lunch time)… although I did skip the news and sport matrixes (matrices?). I guess they could be useful in a broadsheet newspaper where there may be stories I want to turn to before others, but in a quick read newspaper like ‘i’ I don’t need a synopsis of every story when I’m about to get to the full article in a few minutes.

    All in all, it’s 20p better than the Metro, and better value for money than the red tops and the big papers on a work day.

    • Jim says:

      The excellent Guardian mobile website (http://m.guardian.co.uk) is quite readable on a BlackBerry and gives me lengthy stories on the move. The matrix thing is pointless: just flick through stories, especially when they’re all <500 words.

      Still, it's utterly amazing the way they it is put together: the same editorial team put the Indy to bed at about 7pm and then produce each edition within a couple of hours. They must be crazy.

      Thankfully I'm rarely braving Tesco at 6am.

  9. Odette says:

    Wow. What a fantastic, accurate analysis. Very clever.

  10. Anonymous says:

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