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Summary:

The Guardian’s expansion into the U.S. is on track, editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger said Wednesday, with traffic up by 37 percent last year. For now, there are no plans for a paywall.

paidContent Live 2013 Alan Rusbridger Editor in Chief The Guardian
photo: Albert Chau

Speakers: Chris Albrecht Mathew Ingram Alan Rusbridger Audience Member Audience Member

Chris Albrecht 00:02

Thank you Ernie. This is a very timely topic that we’re going to be talking about next, especially given recent events that have happened. But it’s also an ongoing kind of evolution, so I’m really looking forward to this next talk. Mathew Ingram the senior writer you met him this morning. He’s the one that put this show together. So if you see him in the hallway, shake his hand, tell him he did a good job. He’s going to be speaking with Alan Rusbridger who is the Editor in Chief, of The Guardian. They’re going to be talking about The Guardian and Open Journalism. Please welcome Mathew and Alan to the stage.

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Mathew Ingram 00:36

Well thanks very much for joining us.

Alan Rusbridger 00:44

Happy to be here.

Mathew Ingram 00:46

You came from Orlando.

Alan Rusbridger 00:46

Orlando is hot.

Mathew Ingram 00:46

It was hot.

Alan Rusbridger 00:49

It was hot.

Mathew Ingram 00:50

And I guess I should get some disclosure out of the way early. The Guardian owns a small stake in GigOM as a result of us buying paidContent. So, thank you–

Alan Rusbridger 01:00

A tiny, tiny…

Mathew Ingram 01:01

Tiny, miniscule, vanishing small, but thanks very much for letting us buy payContent it’s worked out pretty well so far.

Alan Rusbridger 01:09

You’re welcome.

Mathew Ingram 01:11

So I guess, I wanted to ask you simply are you feeling lonely when it comes to the topic of Pay Walls, because the number of newspapers like The Guardian sort mass market newspapers that don’t have paywall is diminishing. The Washington Post, which I thought was going to go without a paywall for some time. I mean Don Graham was quite vocal about not having one, they have one now. The Telegraph has one, The Sun has one. Are you feeling left out, is there–do you feel – is one coming; do you want to make an announcement?

Alan Rusbridger 01:51

[chuckles] No we’ve always said we’re open-minded on it. I think it’s great that people are trying. It would be even greater if people shared all of the data so we could understand what they are working on. It’s sometimes quite difficult to work out whether these things are working or not, because people are so closed about their figures. And the more people try different models the better it is. We’re not planning on having one, and is it lonely? Well, if you look at the ecosystem of digital publishing as a whole, we feel as though we’re the majority of how people are behaving.

Mathew Ingram 02:30

So outside of newspapers?

Alan Rusbridger 02:33

Yeah, and you have to remember in Britain, you have the BBC which employs something like 8, 000 journalists. So if you are going to go behind a paywall up against the BBC and ITN and Sky News, that is quite a big thing to do. You have to be very confident at what your producing is really excellent. Because all of that’s going to remain free forever. The BBC probably the best news organization in the world, the most comprehensive, and so it be a big statement in UK to try and go and charge what the BBC is giving away free.

Mathew Ingram 03:09

And do you–

Alan Rusbridger 03:09

With or without taking about the rest of the internet.

Mathew Ingram 03:13

There seems to be this feeling – I know that there are some people who write for The Columbia Journalism Review for example – I won’t name any names – who seem to feel that putting up a paywall is almost something you should do. It’s almost like a moral imperative that you The Guardian are ruining things by not putting up a paywall. Because they’ll work better if everybody has them or because it’s your duty to do that in order to keep The Guardian going in order to make it financially healthy.

Alan Rusbridger 03:49

Well I don’t agree with that. I think the more people try different models, the more will learn. It might be right for this paper in this market, wrong for this paper in this market. I think if you’re talking of moral imperatives, the only moral imperative we have to do is produce the best account of the world that we can journalistically. So we have to produce great journalism that serves the readers and the public good as best we can. And I think there is a tension between the barriers you put up between your readers and that people who are going to help you give that account to the world. So I think if you’re being fair-minded about this. Even the proponents of paywalls ought to say it makes it slightly harder to give that account to the world. The bigger the barriers you put up between yourself and the people who you want to reach.

Mathew Ingram 04:42

And that’s kind of what I wanted to get at, your views about open journalism or mutualized journalism; I think you’ve called it. Seem to be very much in sort of tension with the idea of a paywall. So it’s hard to – if what you are interested in, as The guardian is being as open as possible, doing the kinds of things you’ve done around crowdsourcing and so on. Guardian witness, I think lunched just recently. So this reaching out to people to help you to do your journalism is part of the reason you’re not interested in putting up a paywall, that you feel it would retard that sort of effort?

Alan Rusbridger 05:20

When I talk about open journalism – just to understand – because open is a kind of sort of catchword.

[crosstalk]

Mathew Ingram 05:27

Everyone wants to know.

Alan Rusbridger0 5:29

Is journalism that once a response, it is journalism that is itself responsive. It’s journalism that doesn’t just set on the web as though it has no connection with the web that acknowledges that the web is the most extraordinary revolution in publishing – where lots of people will be publishing extremely worthwhile and informative information. And so you can produce better things by not ignoring it, or building a barrier between yourself and that, but incorporating it and linking to it. It’s journalism in which you can be a platform for people who will know more about things, then you are. So is journalism, which is inclusive and wants other people to help you build the stories, and challenger stories. That’s what I mean by open journalism and I think you can do a better job of describing the world using all of that. And there’s obviously tension– all of that is about taking the bricks down between yourself and your readers and the people you want to help create that account of the world. So there’s obviously a tension between that and building up a different kind of wall. There are different kinds of walls and there’s a tension between them, and that doesn’t mean you can’t produce excellent journalism behind forms of metered pay walls. But there is a tension.

Mathew Ingram 06:50

And have you considered – I mean, there’s a lot of – we were just talking in the speaker room about different models people are trying based around membership tiered services, or things that you– Jason Pontin was talking about a delay wall. Ways of sort of, I guess not having that sort of blunt paywall just paying your nose into, but ways of giving your loyal readers something extra. Is that–

Alan Rusbridger 07:18

Overwhelmingly, the loyal readers of The Guardian, who would be willing to pay and we would like them to pay.

Mathew Ingram 07:28

I’m sure you would. [laughter]

Alan Rusbridger 07:29

It’s not that we’re holding them back were to [inaudible] to take your money, we would like their money. So it’s an interesting way. But the other thing they say, But we want you to be open. So there’s something about The Guardian journalism that they believe to be a public good, maybe Guardian readers are strange. But that’s what they believe about The Guardian, so they would like The Guardians journalism to be everywhere, and some of them would be– quite a lot of them I think would be willing to pay it something in order to achieve that. So if you want to call that membership rather than a wall that’s something we are interested in and are actively exploring. But we went into the as an open piece of research, testing what their beliefs were about walls, and they don’t like walls any more than we did.

Mathew Ingram 08:25

I know that this probably comes up whenever I mention The Guardian and the open journalism concept and so on. Someone will say – usually someone who works for another traditional media entity – will say, but of course The Guardian can do that because they’re owned by a trust, and so they don’t have to make money in so they could to do whatever they want. And they can just piddle around and not worry about revenue in things like that. How do you respond to those?

Alan Rusbridger 08:52

That always amuses me because [chuckles] first of all, they misunderstand the nature of The Guardian trust. The Guardian is not a nonprofit. It’s a rather brilliant arrangement invented in the 1930s where the paper sits like this and there’s a basket of companies around it. And the profits of those companies can go to support The Guardian if The Guardian needs it, So that’s not a nonprofit. But you have to sort of understand the ecology in which The Guardian works. So The Guardian, which is supposedly this little charity, is up against The Times and The Sunday Times, which I would guess lose currently much more money than The Guardian. And there is the ruthlessly competitive ones who are owned by Rupert Murdoch, who is the most – big hairy capitalist beast in the future. So he loses more money than the little charity– and yet where the ones who are the [crosstalk] because we can. And The Independent which is our next biggest competitor is owned by Russian [inaudible] who pop out The Independent, and that’s marvelous. I think it’s great that Murdoch and Lebedev is– but let’s not pretend that this is a market in which The Guardian is protected. And as I say, but with BBC, which has the best economic model of all which is sort of this 3 billion pound tax you have to pay for you go to jail. We would all love to have–

Mathew Ingram 10:15

That’s a pretty good model.

Alan Rusbridger 10:16

– that model. So this is not a conventional market in which with Guardian is somehow turning its back on market forces. We’ve got the same challenges as everyone else.

Mathew Ingram 10:29

If anyone has any questions, by the way fill free to jump up to the microphone, no?

Alan Rusbridger 10:37

You have a rather questions are ready have you?

Mathew Ingram 10:37

No, no not at all. I did want to ask about the US expansion. You’ve put a significant amount of resources into it. How is it going? There have been other attempts I think in the past to do the same thing.

Alan Rusbridger 10:53

Yes, it’s basically the same attempt. [chuckles]

Mathew Ingram 10:57

Why is it going to work this time?

Alan Rusbridger 10:59

Well, I think it’ll work because the readership is there. It wasn’t us, saying that we were going to–waking up one morning and thinking less impose The Guardian these Americans, it was the other way around. We woke up with one morning and realized that some of our readership was in America and a third of it, in the rest of the world, and so that’s interesting. We spent no money marketing America at all. And at that stage, you always get confused measurements, but let’s use comp score so its 40 million global and about a third of those are here in America.

Mathew Ingram 11:37

Is that really?

Alan Rusbridger 11:39

Yeah, it’s growing at about– it was exactly 37% last year, and the site as a whole is growing 25%. So it’s just intriguing. There are all these people in your country who are reading the Guardian. So I think it would be odd not to want to explore what they’re reading, and what they like about the Guardian and whether it’s possible to monetize that.

Mathew Ingram 12:05

And how is this sort of monetization going, is it–?

Alan Rusbridger 12:07

It’s exactly on target. We may have sort of a solvent style five-year plan at The Guardian and were about two and a half years through it, and were beating at the moment quite easily. I mean we’ve ever want to hammering in 2008 you look at every paper that looks like The Guardian in the world, everything fell off a cliff, and were rebuilding from that. But at the moment touch word bit think things are feeling as though they are set on the right course.

Mathew Ingram 12:45

Are there other elements of expansion that you are looking at, or is The Guardian–?

Alan Rusbridger 12:48

We’ve got this interesting thing going in Australia.

Mathew Ingram 12:53

Right, the partnership I believe.

Alan Rusbridger 12:55

Well it’s just a different kind of model, so again, Australia was our fourth biggest market in terms of readers. To those of you who follow the Australian media, but there are essentially two newspaper groups, Rupert Murdoch, 70%, Fairfax 30%. And about six months ago this extraordinary woman Gina Rinehart, who is the richest woman in the world–

Mathew Ingram 13:21

Controversial.

Alan Rusbridger 13:23

–she owns all of iron in or in Australia. So she gets very much richer every minute, and she didn’t like the Fairfax Reporter and their company. So she decided– by 20% of Fairfax, so there was a real prospect Rupert Murdoch becoming the left wing player in Australia and Gina Rinehart becoming–

Mathew Ingram 13:42

[laughter] Says a lot about Australia, right?

Alan Rusbridger 13:45

–and somebody rang up and said, Guardian, we need you come to Australia. And I said we can’t afford that right now, in the said; Well what about if somebody–

Mathew Ingram 13:57

They asked you to come, you didn’t decide–?

Alan Rusbridger 13:59

Somewhat vague I remedied them, and Australia rang me and suggested this.

Mathew Ingram 14:06

But you didn’t decide to target Australia?

Alan Rusbridger 14:08

We didn’t, no. Again, it was interesting – upwards of a million readers in Australia, but I don’t think it would have been our next natural country to look at.

Mathew Ingram 14:22

So you have a partnership?

Alan Rusbridger 14:24

And we’re calling them a venture for philamperist Graham Wood, who made a lot of money out of the Internet. He said,” I will invest in the Guardian to come here to if this turns out to be a successful venture, I want my money back. But if it doesn’t I will regard it as a piece of nonprofit giving.” And that is another interesting model I think for publication.

Mathew Ingram 14:55

A sort of philanthropic?

Alan Rusbridger 14:56

Well, he believes he’s going to get his money back. He believes there is a genuine [crosstalk] The Guardian. But if he doesn’t, then he feels he lived on something to increase media diversity in Australia, which is an important thing to do.

Mathew Ingram 15:12

Any questions? No, that’s surprising. No one? [laughter]

Audience Member 15:16

[inaudible]

Alan Rusbridger 15:20

He’s called Graham Wood.

Mathew Ingram 15:21

Graham Wood.

Alan Rusbridger 15:23

And he–

Mathew Ingram 15:23

Pretty [crosstalk] I think.

Alan Rusbridger 15:25

Yeah. I mean he is not Gina Rinehart, rich or Rupert Murdoch, rich, but he’s got several hundred million Australian dollars, which he made through an Australian website called What If. There’s a wonderful story about– iconic story about Graham Wood is he a house on Tasmania and he was very concerned about what was being done about the de-logging on Tasmania. And there was a big wood pulping factory on Tasmania, which came up for sale. And he didn’t like doing it because the people who were about to buy it because they were going to expand and he saw the Tasmanian rain forest about to disappear. So he bought the wood pulping plant in closed it down. So that’s how he likes money.

Mathew Ingram 16:16

Was there a question of a there?

Audience Member 16:17

Come up to the microphone.

Mathew Ingram 16:19

Okay just [inaudible]

S6 16:18

I’m curious whether you think that nowadays anyone can create content and anyone can have access to it. When I was in college I would use it for free. I thought that was great. And now I’m creating content and trying to make money off of it and it’s not so great.

Mathew Ingram 16:35

You’ve said a mouthful right there.

S6 16:38

I wonder if you think that like in the fact that anyone can do it, a net positive or negative for people who want to create and consume content?

Mathew Ingram 16:50

Good question.

Alan Rusbridger 16:52

That’s a good one and net positive. Obviously the people are going to– the financial ecology, of all of this. And who survives and who doesn’t, who makes money out of it is going to change. Again, if you come back to the– the big question to me is what is better journalism? Journalistically, and there’s no question for me that journalistically and we can do so much better in reporting everything from music to the client change to politics, international affairs. Using these techniques of openness that were doing, we do a much better job of reporting the world, than we could have possibly done. And add newsrooms smaller, as they probably will. I think it is– we are going to need these kinds of techniques more, but we’re also going to have to get wiser, of course, about how we jump to the value and the expertise and the truthfulness of what’s being said. There was just a little example that struck me this morning – we built this little app called Witness, which is really just a frictionless way of readers sending in content. And it showed me very forcibly this morning – I woke up early and switched on the state funeral of Mrs. Thatcher and there was the BBC narrative, which was this extraordinary event at St. Paul’s Cathedral. And there were – with people wearing crowns and fur and you know an extremely somber state occasion. A couple hundred miles north in Leeds square the city Council had put up a gigantic TV screen to relay the service to Leeds. And there was a little picture of two people standing – it was under the screen. And both of those narratives were true, but you needed to understand both those in order to understand what Mrs. Thatcher represented. And as we were live blogging that, lots of people were using Guardian Witness to send him pictures, this is an app that was 24 hours old. And it’s not a product, is a tool. It’s not revolutionary, but it is saying to the readers, you can help us create a narrative around this. And a better account of what’s happening and we can do it alone. And that’s not a revolutionary new thought, but I think it’s quite an important thought.

Mathew Ingram 19:24

Great, unfortunately we are out of time. So that’s a great note to end on, please think Mr. Rusbridger for coming. Thanks very much.

[applause]

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  1. Or they could be expats living here in the U.S.

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    1. Good point, I for one fit in that category. Interestingly I do find that I read the US edition more frequently than the UK though.

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  2. I read the Guardian every day on my Razr Maxx. It would be nice if all the articles in the Guardian would open. If the story doesn’t have a picture attached to it….normally it will not launch. Any thoughts on the Guardian management?

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  3. They get nothing for all those Americans. The Guardian is running itself out of business. Get a paywall, already…

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  4. “and charge for what the BBC is giving away for free.”

    BBC propaganda is free, but of what worth is that. Try finding an objective article n Iran for example.

    The BBC is good at entertainment only, and that includes its ‘news’.

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