Crossing the Channel

Some people wonder why I go to Germany so often. It’s to meet some brilliant people who are doing amazing things there, among them Wolfgang Blau, for almost five years the editor-in-chief of Zeit Online. Now I won’t have to go as far to see him as Wolfgang is moving to London to become director of digital strategy at the Guardian. Don’t you love it when friends marry?

I’m reminded of John Paton, who was executing much of his strategy for digital-first news in the U.S., but no one saw it because it occurred in Spanish, at Impremedia, a roll-up he engineered with publications he then re-engineered. Only when he took over two English-language newspaper companies under Digital First Media did our world take note of what he was doing. Same for Wolfgang: At Zeit Online he did phenomenal things, complementing a still-successful (!) print paper in Germany with an innovative journalism online, growing the site and its audience tremendously. But my friends over here couldn’t see it because he did it in German.

Now Wolfgang comes to my favorite newspaper in the world to extend its digital lead. The Guardian — under another friend, Emily Bell, now a friendly competitor at Columbia’s j-school — showed the way for news online. Now, in my view, the Guardian will be competing with The New York Times (under its new ex-BBC CEO) and the BBC and perhaps the Wall Street Journal to become the leading English-language news brand online. That battle is just underway and the battleground is digital.

As I was writing this post, someone in Twitter noted the timing of the Guardian getting ready to launch a next round of layoffs. My view: newspapers have to finish the process of shrinking so they can grow again, and they’ll grow digitally.

Wolfgang is a dear friend and I’m delighted for him and for Alan Rusbridger and company at the Guardian. (And disclosures: I’m on the Digital First advisory board and I have consulted and written for the Guardian over the years.)

Here’s the Guardian announcement in English and here’s the Zeit announcement in German.