‘The web is preeminent’

Yesterday, Alan Rusbridger, editor-in-chief of the Guardian, told the staff of his newspaper that now “all journalists work for the digital platform” and that they should regard “its demands as preeminent.”

This came in each of three all-hands meetings with the editorial and business staff held at a theater 15 minutes from the paper’s offices, the first such meetings since the Guardian went through its last metamorphosis to its medium-sized Berliner format. (I happened to be consulting at the paper yesterday and I went along for the ride. Rusbridger gave me permission to blog the company event.)

So that was the line that struck me: preeminent. I suspect it was the line that resonated with staff members a few hours later. Rusbridger said that some would find the content of yesterday’s meetings no-big-deal and others would find unease. But the message was clear, although it was shoehorned into much else in the presentation; you had to listen to hear it. He also said that the paper will serve the public 24/7; it does not yet do that. So the Guardian, he said, will be a 24-hour, web-first newspaper. To do that, the paper’s management needs — he called it the F word — flexibility. And that means that jobs will change. It’s all in a parcel.

Rusbridger also said that for a paper, success is “about holding your nerves.” He emphasized that they have “no loss of belief in the paper” as a paper. But he also showed a PowerPoint screen listing the paper’s other nine platforms today. Paper is just one of them.

This was not issued as a harsh edict. Instead, it was presented as the reality of news today. This being the Guardian — a paper that issues an annual social, ethical and environmental audit of its values — they emphasized that they will be consulting with the employees, including consultation with a newly elected employees’ council. They issued a set of principles to work by. And this was surrounded by much deserved — in my biased opinion — back-patting for good journalism and innovation and, from managing director Tim Brooks and company head Carolyn McCall, for business progress.

McCall also took them through the state of the company’s other businesses — local newspapers, radio stations, and auto ad magazines — which support the Guardian as does its owner, the Scott Trust. The trust exists “to secure the financial and editorial independence of The Guardian in perpetuity: as a quality national newspaper without party affiliation; remaining faithful to liberal tradition; as a profit-seeking enterprise managed in an efficient and cost-effective manner.”

In the U.S., I hear journalists and media executives wish that they, too, were owned by a trust. The assumption is that this would forestall change and save the status quo. But note well that the Guardian is accelerating change and that is because it must preserve itself into perpetuity. It’s not the old ways that need preserving but the journalism and its future.

So it would be hard to leave the meeting without seeing more major change ahead. Rusbridger told them that. But he also said that there has “never been a better time to be a journalist.” I agree.

(By the way, I’ll be writing later about my tour of the Telegraph in their new newsroom — video coming — and I’ll also be visiting with the Economist and The Times.)

: LATER: Thanks to Juan Antonio Giner, here are the draft principles:


The Guardian is increasingly becoming a global news provider with an international audience and reputation.

Web users expect to read about news as it happens.

If we don’t update our site continuously readers will go elsewhere.

Our website is crucial to our digital strategy and to the future of the Guardian & Observer.

The international purpose and reach of the Guardian & Observer cannot be achieved by current publication schedules.

The Guardian and Observers’ journalism must be accurate, reliable and trusted.

In any circumstances where speed might compromise trust we should place a greater emphasis on trust.

We still place an extremely high value on depth, complexity and journalism which cannot be rushed.

We recognise that much of our best journalism takes time, patience and diligent research.

24/7 means we will publish material around the clock across seven days, rather than (as at present) for 16 hours a day across five days

It means publishing more of our news according to the demands of the web rather than the rhythms and expectations of a newspaper

Generally, news material which has been written, subbed and legalled may be posted on the web as it becomes available

Exceptions can be made for any stories which the relevant editor wishes to hold back for the print edition

We will continue to use news wires for breaking news but will seek to use our full editorial resources to add “Guardian/Observer” value as soon as possible.

This means adding context, analysis and opinion – and, sometimes, colour.

The above mainly applies in the areas of news (home, foreign, city, sport).

It also applies to commentary and, for instance, arts criticism.

There will be areas of non-news coverage that we wish to extend and explore over seven days.

Our production processes must reflect the needs of the web (e.g. the use of web-friendly headlines as well as newspaper headlines, links, tagging, key wording and so on.)

All journalists across Guardian, GU and Observer will be expected to work according to the above principles.

Alan Rusbridger
Editor, The Guardian