The Guardian is an excellent newspaper that’s trying many innovations. One impetus for its risk-taking might be that the organization will run out of money if losses continue at their current pace.
Two years ago, Charlie Rose mispronounced Alan Rusbridger’s name when introducing him—Rusbrigger, he called him. These days, the editor of The Guardian is a journalistic “global celebrity,” as Bill Keller put it to me—Adweek dubbed him “the Ben Bradlee of phone hacking.” It was under his leadership that the paper broke the WikiLeaks story, then the News of the World phone-hacking scandal, then the efforts at Rupert Murdoch’s company to cover it up. Guardian reporting triggered investigations that have so far led to arrests of more than 40 Murdoch journalists and executives. “Something happened last year,” says Rusbridger, slipping into a sweet reminiscence about the halfway downfall of Britain’s media king, who seems never far from his mind. “It was quite extraordinary if you lived through this period to see … the bursting of the bubble.”
Now, having shoved Murdoch off his pedestal, Rusbridger finds himself staring down a different kind of challenge. His paper is running out of money: It lost roughly $50 million last year, and though it’s subsidized by a nonprofit trust, at that rate it can survive for at most another five years.* Thus, the new American edition: 30 journalists turning out daily columns, reporting, and incessant live-blogging—not just on Americans but for Americans.
* Emphasis mine – Bill D.
“Why are we in America?” he asks, facing me across a small round table in a corner office, another sleek white box. There’s barely a picture on the wall or a paper on the desk—it’s as clutter-free as a monk’s quarters. “We’re in America because a third of our audience is in America.” The Guardian has about 20 million monthly online readers in the United States, he says—a natural growth opportunity. But Rusbridger’s plan doesn’t require the company to ever actually turn a profit. “Within four years we will have brought losses down to a single figure,” he says. That’s a single figure in millions of pounds. “Which is sustainable.”
Hmm. So long as the Guardian’s losses are contained to a few million pounds annually, its future is assured.
It’s nice when you’re supported by a trust.
I’ve ploughed some of this ground before. See The New World of Open Journalism, posted March 8.
In a comment on his March 2 J-Source blog post that I had mentioned, journalism educator Robert Washburn responded thusly to my blogged remarks:
The Guardian has taken a huge leap forward as a leader in the industry. Many of the practices it is using have already been done elsewhere but on a much smaller scale. To see a respected news organization of the size and influence of the Guardian taking such bold steps is welcomed. As argued in the article, it means a fundamental redefinition regarding how journalists do their job, challenging a paradigm that has existed since Walter Lippmann outlined the first building blocks for modern journalism nearly a century ago. It has captured the transition of journalistic principles from inform, explain and interpret to the new model of educate, engage and empower.
No one ever forgets journalism is a business. And critics like Bill will ensure this. As stated before, it remains to be seen if it will be a profitable one under the Open Journalism model. If a point needs to be made regarding the business model of the Guardian, it should be simple: we should be grateful these kinds of news organizations exist so they can take chances, push boundaries and continue to stretch our imaginations so we can be innovative as we search to redefine the future of journalism.
I couldn’t find any mention of the Guardian’s current financial dilemma on the J-Source website.