The Independent and Digital – Learnings from the Gorkana Media Briefing

Last week Propeller headed down to a Gorkana Media Briefing with Christian Broughton, editor of Independent Digital, and Zach Leonard, MD Digital at ESI Media, to learn how The Independent has fared in its transition from print to digital. The refreshing focus wasn’t on the ‘beginning of the end’ for print journalism but instead on embracing digital whilst preserving a sense of print values – which they suggest is going well for the title.

This year has marked the 30th anniversary of the Independent. It has seen a momentous shift and now they have twice as many subscribers to the App as they did to the paper. It was interesting to hear that their decision to drop the print edition wasn’t a quick reactive one – on the contrary, it was part of a three-year plan and the hardest challenge for them was getting readers and the industry on-board. “We closed the Independent print edition because we love the Independent!,” Broughton exclaimed. He went on to speak about how digital encourages innovation, and how people are always encouraged to try new things. Moving to digital-only has enabled them to preserve the future of the title and he’s seen more innovation this year than in his entire career in print – “the agility is exciting and seeing the best of old-school journalists working together with online has been fun, educating and rewarding”, he said. It’s also refreshing for PRs as journalists want more than the classic flat, finished pitch – they want to be offered ways to accompany a story with engaging visual video content and ways to drive the conversation further via social media.

Leonard spoke about how bringing together the expertise from both digital content specialists and world-class journalism has been one of their greatest strengths. He described how the whole editorial floor now feels as though they are contributing to the success of the title and learning about the data and analytics around the stories can create a real buzz – they are working out the future for quality, sustainable and passionate journalism on different platforms. He spoke about how The Independent has always had a global reach down to the quality of the foreign coverage they are known for, but now how much bigger the international audiences have become with digital connecting audiences worldwide – people desperately wanting this type of challenging, thought-provoking, quality journalism. They now have a dozen people working for the title in the US and can see the huge numbers of people engaging across social media platforms, which is where they have learnt that a lot of issues they cover well can really come to life. In fact, the Independent was the only UK entry in the top 10 list of global socially engaged publishers around the US election. “Digital media has made us all global publishers, and the Independent has always had a global view of the world.”

We thoroughly enjoyed delving a little deeper into the new world at The Independent and were pleased to hear that a sense of social justice still lies at the heart of its values. Values, Broughton explained, have been the foundation for the transition to digital. They found the move easier owing to their heritage as a globally-renowned publisher and, interestingly, often find the answer to new questions are already inherent in the Independent’s DNA.