The significance of Ian Hargreaves' dismissal from the editorship of the Independentby John Lloyd / March 20, 1996 / Leave a comment
There is a familiar litany recited by British intellectuals about the newspapers they feel able to choose between. It usually begins with a lament on The Times; regards the Guardian as “now rather silly”; sees the Telegraph as the preserve of a d?mod? intellectual enclave; and believes that the Independent has “gone off a bit.” The Financial Times is usually the hero of this assessment for its seriousness, its coverage of foreign affairs, its neglect of the cursed topics of sex, monarchy and sport-but it is “a bit specialised” or “hard to read” or “too expensive” (and is rarely read by the litanist anyway).
The answer to this state of affairs has for some time been proposed: a “secular FT”; a paper shorn of the tabular and other market information which is a large part of FT content and, for many, its raison de lire. The most high-falutin’ version of this strategy would be a paper covering domestic and international news with thoughtful objectivity, complemented by a range of analysis and informed comment.
There are models. Le Monde is usually mentioned in this context, and rightly: the paper has improved over the past two years, thanks to a greater separation of news from comment. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is said by German speakers to provide weighty analysis; the Russian dailies Kommersant and Nezavisimaya Gazeta are replete with comment; the New York Times remains the paper preferred by the elites of wealth and intellect.
These papers differ substantially. Those which most frankly address an intellectual demand (or presumed demand) are the poorest and most unstable. Those which are stable have married the intellectuals to business or, in the case of the New York Times, have a monopoly of a market segment. The FT, canniest of them all, retains severity and rationality but regularly slips a glossy “How to spend it” magazine supplement into its weekend edition.
Fact is expensive, but so now is comment-if it is not waffle. Their combined effect can be tremendously refreshing, but that effect is achieved by spending a lot of money-commentators and reporters have to be maintained in close proximity to their subjects, and kept out of the hands of the competition.
We have recently seen one attempt to produce a “secular FT.” The manner of its coming and going teaches a lesson on the contemporary press. Ian Hargreaves was offered the editorship of the…