Journalism cannot ignore the digital futureby Alan Rusbridger / April 19, 2016 / Leave a comment
Published in May 2016 issue of Prospect Magazine
This is a response to an article from Prospect’s April 2016 issue titled “Who guards the Guardian?”
In Washington, in April, I had a public conversation with Marty Baron, the tough, old-school Editor of the Washington Post, recently celebrated in the film Spotlight. The question came from the floor—how much longer can print survive? Baron shrugged and said he didn’t know—five, 10, 15 years? He grew up with print, loved print: “But we spend 99 per cent of our time thinking about digital.” So, these days, do most editors.
Stephen Glover’s piece about the Guardian in last month’s issue (“Who Guards the Guardian?” April) appears oblivious to this debate. He is, in Marty Baron’s terms, a one per center: fondly harking back to the age of print and, on the evidence of this piece, bereft of ideas about the digital future.
Glover rehearses old history: the Guardian should have stayed as a guest on Richard Desmond’s worn-out presses despite our print contract nearing its end. But we had to move to full colour—the old presses were mainly black and white. Two external consultants advised the board on costs. Moving to the “Berliner” format was not more expensive than the other options the board examined. If Glover thinks there are endless contract printing opportunities in the UK today he hasn’t been paying attention. News International alone spent some £350m on vast printing plants in 2008.
Similarly, Glover would have preferred the Guardian to move to “cheaper offices” in Lambeth. I think he means a Will Alsop building in Southwark, which was more expensive than the building the paper ended up renting in King’s Cross. These decisions—like everything else—were vetted and approved by three boards. On bigger decisions the boards would hire external consultants to double, or triple, check their thinking. Glover questions Guardian Media Group (GMG) judgements about how much to invest in digital as against print. Should newspapers try for large international audiences, or try to make a go of it in the much smaller UK pool, with or without pay walls? These are reasonable questions to ask: all newspaper managements are discussing variations of them all the time (see Marty Baron). The Daily Mail, for which Glover now works, has essentially an identical strategy to that of the Guardian: invest in a (currently) free web offering in order to build a global audience while still relying on print revenues to provide a steady cash stream.