According to editor-in-chief Simon Kelner, who spoke to EPUK briefly on Friday to confirm the rumours, the move back from digital to 35mm film will allow it to reconnect with its reputation for innovative monochrome photojournalism from when the daily title was first set up in 1986.
“Nowadays, newspaper photographers tend to be sent from photocall to photocall, with no time to interpret an idea. We want to give them the space and the time to allow them to visually interpret a news event as best they can, and allowing them to shoot on film seemed an important part of that”, he said.
Move to film “begins tomorrow”
“Unless there are any difficulties over the weekend, the picture desk will begin on Monday to work on a part analogue, part digital basis, with the majority of commissioned work being shot on film”, said Kelner.
“Realistically speaking, we have to accept that the vast majority of wire service pictures from Reuters, PA and the like are still going to be supplied digitally, and we need to work with that. But as anyone who looks through the paper can tell you, we don’t use that many wire pictures anyway.”
Regarding the main advantage of digital – the direct and speedy delivery to the picture desk of pictures from the scene of a breaking news story – Kelner claims it is less important at the self proclaimed “views paper”, where front pages tend to be dominated by “bigger issue” stories such as global warming rather than hard news events.
An editorial move to “wider issue” campaigns has led to speculation that the Independent on Sunday may be relaunched in a weekly magazine format, something which Kelner strongly denies.
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Investment in new equipment by parent group Independent News & Media Group (INM), described by one insider as “at the low end of four figures”, will see staff photographers and contracted freelances working with Nikon F3s and F4s, and shooting solely on Kodak Tri-X. One token digital SLR, a Kodak DCS-100, is to be kept at the picture desk in the unlikely event of staff photographers needing to cover a breaking news story.
Shot film will then be biked by courier back to the newsroom at One Canary Wharf, before being processed by hand and edited. Final 10×8” Ilford prints will then be drum scanned and transmitted over an analogue telephone line to the printing press where it will be handled by members of the National Graphical Association who have been invited to oversee and implement the necessary changes in working practices.
Other accusations that the move has been introduced to cut costs are “simply wrong”, says picture editor Lynn Cullen, although she conceded that the sale would generate some short term income for the titles. “When we sold off our film cameras in 1999, we actually made a tidy sum out of them. Now we’re buying back pretty much the same cameras, but for a fraction of what we got for them originally. Plus we’ll get thousands from the sale of our digital equipment.”
“Unsurprisingly, film cameras are dirt cheap on Ebay at the moment”, she added. “And 5×4 is even cheaper. That might be the next step.”
Reinvention in a shrinking market
Faced with a shrinking newspaper market, flatlining sales and against tough competition from the Times and the Guardian, the Independent titles are no stranger to bold moves to distinguish themselves from the competition. The daily was the first British tabloid to downsize to a tabloid format in 2003, a move which immediately increased circulation by 15%, and which was followed by all other national daily broadsheets except the Telegraph.
Rejecting the collective received wisdom of his fellow editors, Kelner denies that print editions of newspapers are in terminal decline. In an interview with MediaGuardian two weeks ago, he said “ I completely reject the idea that newspapers are on some sort of slippery slope”. On the subject of newspaper websites, on which he is notoriously sceptical, he added: “I’ve never met anyone who ever listens to podcasts”.
“I’ve never baulked from making my own mind up, despite what other editors say or do. At the Independent, we don’t believe in throwing money down the drain at our websites, and we don’t believe in outmoded ideas like paying our freelances on time. If at all. Not if I can help it”, he told EPUK.
“Everyone remembers that the Independent titles were founded on innovation, but what they forget is that sometimes you have to take big leaps to innovate. Most of our rivals think only in terms of leaps forward, whereas we’re happy to be taking a giant leap backwards. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt about about the newspaper industry is that its not the direction but the size of the leap that really counts.”
Nevertheless, while it seems unlikely that any other national titles will follow the Independent’s lead, only time will tell whether the bold move will continue to revive the Independent’s sales in a declining market.
Despite this, Kelner remains bullish about the prospects for the photojournalism-led titles: “We’ve spent a lot of time in focus groups fine-tuning this, and one thing I can say with confidence is – film is the future.”
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