Lisa Markwell, editor of the Independent on Sunday, has broken her holiday to give account on Slipped Disc of her new arts policy.
Dear Norman Lebrecht
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to give a full context to the arts cuts.
You will be aware of the difficult economic state of all of Britain’s newspapers, and the Independent titles in particular. It has been reported that the management team of the titles is engaged in a broad-ranging sweep of cost-cutting exercises, and this includes a number of compulsory redundancies.
Many of these are staff members of the papers who have been with titles up to (in a couple of cases) 20 years. Some are younger journalists of terrific talent. It is distressing for those leaving and worrying for those left to try and bring out papers of quality and distinction without them.
Another facet of the cuts is to drive down contributor costs – this is where the arts critics come in.
There is no question that the critics who have given loyal service to The Independent on Sunday for years are brilliant. When I took over editing the paper a few months ago, it was a delight to read them – and I know my predecessor felt the same, protecting them as much as possible in earlier cost-cutting exercises.
This time, however, calculations proved that it was no longer possible to continue with reviews in the way they have appeared – and the challenge for me and the art critics’ main editor, Mike Higgins, is to find a way to cover arts in the Independent on Sunday that satisfies the readers and provides a showcase for terrific writing about the different disciplines.
We are working that out right now – and will launch a new section (clearly no longer called The Critics) in September. We hope that any of the writers who have appeared on the pages before will be able to in the future, should they want to. Having been made redundant from their reviewing contracts, they no doubt feel bruised and anxious, so I wouldn’t be so pushy as to demand they either do or don’t contribute.
(Because I am also involved with trying to maintain news, comment, business, politics, features, sport and a colour supplement in the face of cuts in all those areas too, I have – I admit – been too slow to write to the critics direct to thank them for their hard work and loyalty. I am doing that now.)
I can see that for lovers of the arts, a newspaper without critics is a puzzling and perhaps unwelcome development but I believe that it is still possible to write exciting essays, interviews, comment and so on that challenge and delight the reader and showcase talent with just as much space as before. I have no doubt that you and other commentators will let me know whether we have been successful or not.
The section will not be a collection of digested reviews from other papers (although we may alert readers to reviews from our sister paper, the daily Independent).
The reason I put out an alert to the media about the changes to the arts section were partly to counter the erroneous reports that there would no longer be any arts in The Independent on Sunday. I included the request that PRs afford the writers the same access and information as always was meant to be helpful to the critics whether or not they write for the IoS in the future. They probably don’t need any help in that direction, having established their own contacts with the arts world over many years, but it was a gesture of goodwill and to see it turned into some sort of blag for the paper was miserable.
I’ve been a journalist for 29 years (oof!) and have learned to take the rough with the smooth. I expect flak for these swingeing cuts happening on my watch but hope that I would always make myself available to answer criticism and give explanations where required, if asked.
Thank you for reading,
The Independent on Sunday