The Independent has launched a new site called Independent Voices to focus on commentary and opinion content, combined with input from readers. “Its mission is captured in three words: Comment, Campaigns, Community,” said the platform’s editor Amol Rajan and editor-in-chief Evgeny Lebedev in an announcement on the site.
It will have its own editorial line and be independent of the Independent newspaper, Rajan said in another post. “What I want us to achieve is a marriage of editorial brilliance, in the form of strong and clear argument, with digital power, in the form of viral campaigns – all of it in alliance with a community of ultra-engaged users.”
The Independent print product’s Opinion pages will, however, be renamed Independent Voices. The paper has a long history of focusing on comment and opinion, since former editor Simon Kelner's editorial strategy that was dubbed the 'viewspaper' concept back in 2003.
Evgeny Lebedev, owner of The Independent as well as editor-in-chief of the new site, announced that the paper was working on such an initiative back in March at the Financial Times’ digital media conference, when he described his vision for it as the “home of liberal fundamentalism campaigning,” reported Journalism.co.uk at the time.
In a comment piece in yesterday’s Evening Standard, which Lebedev also owns, he bemoans the fact that politicians and institutions often don’t speak their minds for fear of insulting and offending, and declares that Independent Voices is his solution to this. “In the months to come, you’ll see arguments and opinions there that offend plenty of people — but for the right reasons,” he writes.
The launch is in direct response to the evolution of journalism, which is becoming “more immediate, open, and interactive,” say the editors. They promise their commentators a platform which is “more engaging and energetic” where “a community of users can react and respond to our journalism in exciting and novel ways.”
“Far from passively listening to a lecture or reading an article, audiences want to be involved, to engage with the speaker and author, to air their own views straight away,” the piece says.
This is an essential premise behind the concept of open journalism, which has been embraced by newsrooms around the world who believe that their journalism can be improved by including the input of others of others.
Open journalism is a key element of the Guardian’s current strategy, for example. As editor Alan Rusbridger said recently, “You can be more powerful if instead of ignoring other people, you bring them into what you're doing.”
Journalism professor and media commentator Roy Greenslade brought up the fact that the Guardian has had its ‘Comment is Free’ section since 2006 in a Guardian blog post about Independent Voices. Comment is Free is a comment and political opinion platform that features writing from many non-journalist personalities, and invites the audience to contribute article ideas via its ‘You tell us’ initiative.
Rajan did not appreciate the comparison between the two sites, tweeting that the “Whole point of @IndyVoices is to avoid being @commentisfree, as will become clear to @GreensladeR. Design just a start.”
Showcasing opinion and commentary while providing a platform where readers can more easily engage with writers seems a wise move for any news organisation in today’s world where breaking news is becoming a commodity, and readers are accustomed to direct online communication with almost anybody. It will be interesting to see exactly how the site cultivates its online community and encourages engagement, and how the platform is used for campaigning.