1986 to 1990
Launched in 1986, the first issue of The Independent was published on 7 October in broadsheet format. It was produced by Newspaper Publishing plc and created by Andreas Whittam Smith, Stephen Glover and Matthew Symonds. All three partners were former journalists at The Daily Telegraph who had left the paper towards the end of Lord Hartwell's ownership. Marcus Sieff was the first chairman of Newspaper Publishing, and Whittam Smith took control of the paper.
The paper was created at a time of a fundamental change in British newspaper publishing. Rupert Murdoch was challenging long-accepted practices of the print unions and ultimately defeated them in the Wapping dispute. Consequently, production costs could be reduced which, it was said at the time, created openings for more competition. As a result of controversy around Murdoch's move to Wapping, the plant was effectively having to function under siege from sacked print workers picketing outside. The Independent attracted some of the staff from the two Murdoch broadsheets who had chosen not to move to his company's new headquarters. Launched with the advertising slogan "It is. Are you?", and challenging both The Guardian for centre-left readers and The Times as the newspaper of record, The Independent reached a circulation of over 400,000 by 1989.
Competing in a moribund market, The Independent sparked a general freshening of newspaper design as well as, within a few years, a price war in the market sector. When The Independent launched The Independent on Sunday in 1990, sales were less than anticipated, partly due to the launch of the Sunday Correspondent four months prior, although this direct rival closed at the end of November 1990. Some aspects of production merged with the main paper, although the Sunday paper retained a largely distinct editorial staff.
In the 1990s, The Independent was faced with price cutting by the Murdoch titles, and started an advertising campaign accusing The Times and The Daily Telegraph of reflecting the views of their proprietors, Rupert Murdoch and Conrad Black. It featured spoofs of the other papers' mastheads with the words The Rupert Murdoch or The Conrad Black, with The Independent below the main title.
Newspaper Publishing had financial problems. A number of other media companies were interested in the paper. Tony O'Reilly's media group and Mirror Group Newspapers (MGN) had bought a stake of about a third each by mid-1994. In March 1995, Newspaper Publishing was restructured with a rights issue, splitting the shareholding into O'Reilly's Independent News & Media (43%), MGN (43%), and Prisa (publisher of El País) (12%).
In April 1996, there was another refinancing, and in March 1998, O'Reilly bought the other shares of the company for £30 million, and assumed the company's debt. Brendan Hopkins headed Independent News, Andrew Marr was appointed editor of The Independent, and Rosie Boycott became editor of The Independent on Sunday. Marr introduced a dramatic if short-lived redesign which won critical favour but was a commercial failure, partly as a result of a limited promotional budget. Marr admitted his changes had been a mistake in his book, My Trade.
Boycott left in April 1998 to join the Daily Express, and Marr left in May 1998, later becoming the BBC's political editor. Simon Kelner was appointed as the editor. By this time the circulation had fallen below 200,000. Independent News spent heavily to increase circulation, and the paper went through several redesigns. While circulation increased, it did not approach the level which had been achieved in 1989, or restore profitability. Job cuts and financial controls reduced the morale of journalists and the quality of the product.
Ivan Fallon, on the board since 1995 and formerly a key figure at The Sunday Times, replaced Hopkins as head of Independent News & Media in July 2002. By mid-2004, the newspaper was losing £5 million per year. A gradual improvement meant that by 2006, circulation was at a nine-year high.
In November 2008, following further staff cuts, production was moved to Northcliffe House, in Kensington High Street, the headquarters of Associated Newspapers. The two newspaper groups' editorial, management and commercial operations remained separate, but they shared services including security, information technology, switchboard and payroll.
On 25 March 2010, Independent News & Media sold the newspaper to Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev for a nominal £1 fee and £9.25m over the next 10 months, choosing this option over closing The Independent and The Independent on Sunday, which would have cost £28m and £40m respectively, due to long-term contracts. In 2009, Lebedev had bought a controlling stake in the London Evening Standard. Two weeks later, editor Roger Alton resigned.
In July 2011, The Independent's columnist Johann Hari was stripped of the Orwell Prize he had won in 2008 after claims, to which Hari later admitted, of plagiarism and inaccuracy. In January 2012, Chris Blackhurst, editor of The Independent, told the Leveson inquiry that the scandal had "severely damaged" the newspaper's reputation. He nevertheless told the inquiry that Hari would return as a columnist in "four to five weeks". Hari later announced that he would not return to The Independent. Jonathan Foreman contrasted The Independent's reaction to the scandal unfavourably with the reaction of American newspapers to similar incidents such as the Jayson Blair case, which led to resignations of editors, "deep soul-searching", and "new standards of exactitude being imposed". The historian Guy Walters suggested that Hari's fabrications had been an open secret amongst the newspaper's staff and that their internal inquiry was a "facesaving exercise". A proportion of articles are now behind a pay wall, that section is titled, 'Independent Minds'.
The Independent and The Independent on Sunday endorsed the "Remain" in the Brexit referendum of 2016.
In March 2016 The Independent decided to close its print edition and become an online newspaper; the last printed edition was published on Saturday 26 March 2016. The Independent on Sunday published its last print edition on 20 March 2016 and was closed following that.