The Independent on Sunday, the Oliver Twist of the national newspaper workhouse, has been through more changes than most adolescents in its 11-year, seesaw history. Now Tristan Davies, the eighth editor of the newspaper, has marked his arrival by an overhaul that is like a new haircut, a complete change of clothes and a personality transplant all in one. The paper's pleas for more - editorial investment, that is, rather than food - seem to have been answered. Oliver looks healthy at last.
Not only has the Sindy grown in stature under Davies's new direction, but it has adopted a butch persona indicative of where the editor believes its future lies. The most noticeable feature of the paper's new identity is a 32-page sports section with biceps: in tabloid format, that would be 64 pages - only eight fewer than the entire newsprint pagination of the same day's Sunday Mirror.
This beats even the Sunday Times. The Times's 26-page sports section on the day of the Sindy relaunch included seven pages on motoring, all crowded with advertising. The other broadsheets aren't even contenders in the sports beefcake stakes - the Observer's section, for example, was a svelte 16 pages, bordering on the anorexic.
The relaunched Sindy's Sportsweek, with roughly a mere page and a half of ads, was a dozen pages up on the previous issue's (admittedly ad-free) sports section, and covered the sporting spectrum from athletics to yachting. I wrote here last week about how the broadsheets have muscled in on sports. All hail the new champion.
But there is a lot more to Davies's Independent on Sunday than beefed-up sports coverage. Most of the other sections have been beefed up, too, with the exception of the previous editor Janet Street-Porter's baby, Reality, which was so beefed down that it has become extinct. Apart from the television and radio listings, Reality was a mishmash of trivia on shopping, fashion and diet aimed at women, using what I suspect were dodgy sights. It shot itself in its handsomely shod feet, in fact, and now, by boosting the Sunday Review from 64 to 80 pages, Davies has given himself the space to incorporate fashion and lifestyle in what is a much more rounded supplement to the main paper.
Ah, the main paper. It has the same number of pages as before, but with a stylish black-and-red masthead instead of the white-out-of-purple tombstone of the past. The new masthead, plus the use of lighter typefaces and more space below headlines and between columns, means the Sindy's flagship section looks more sophisticated than ever before.
Page 2 is devoted mostly to a comprehensive contents guide; the leader has been moved to a left-hand page and Sholto Byrnes's diary to the op-ed page. The offbeat Captain Moonlight column has transferred from the Independent. Charles Nevin's quirkily written melange of strange stories raises smiles, although not quite enough to justify the amount of space it commands.
There are other aspects of what was advertised on the front page, peculiarly, as "a new look for a new paper" - only half true, surely? - about which one can carp. LifeEtc, incorporating ArtsEtc, TravelEtc, etc, smacks of being a title decided upon at the end of a gruelling day by a group of weary executives surrounded by dictionaries and thesauruses. (But merging the old culture and travel supplements into one 28-page section works well.) And for all the Sunday Review's class, the Preview section for TV and radio at the back has been diminished, with so much crammed into its pages that the information is barely penetrable.
Assuming the investment is ongoing, that the wherewithal which has enabled Davies to turn a weakling into a Charles Atlas who can kick sand in the faces of its competitors does not disappear as fast as a workhouse sausage, the Independent on Sunday, for the first time in a long time, is in a position to cause its rivals serious concern.
At the beginning of the year, I commented in this space that the Sindy had become anonymous. "Reality magazine, the editor's own pride and joy, is pedestrian compared to some of the supplements in the competitors," I wrote, and also pointed out that, although there were some excellent columnists among the great many filling its columns, the paper lacked one authoritative voice.
If Tristan Davies can address this last criticism, perhaps with campaigns and revelatory stories and features as well as a strong editorial voice, the Sindy can soar like the new eagle that now proudly spreads its wings over the masthead.
Lest We Forget Department: despite vacating the editor's chair, Janet Street-Porter remains an awesome presence in the Sindy. Her column in Davies's first issue occupied half of page 2 in the LifeEtc section, and carried the strap "Editor-At-Large", rather than "Ex-Editor-Gone-But-Determined-Not-To-Be-Forgotten".
Street-Porter can drop names even faster than she drops her h's. In her inaugural column, she excelled, recalling a party where she "shared a table with Damien Hirst and ex-Clash man Joe Strummer", going on to bemoan the Prime Minister's axing of Chris Smith as minister for culture. After meeting him at a dinner at Tate Modern, she observed of Smith: "Sitting at my table, he looked somewhat wistful, while his successor as Secretary of State, Tessa Jowell, was promoted to the top slot . . ."
Don't you just love that "my table"? I have been waiting for a broadsheet to produce a column as pseudo-grand and grotesquely fascinating as that written by James Whitaker, the Mirror's very own Lord Snooty. And here it is, complete with enough hyphens to fuel pages of Debrett's.