Blog Post

Rusbridger: Does Journalism Exist?

Thank you for inviting me to give this lecture in honour of the memory of Hugh Cudlipp.

Ask any British journalist who were their editor-heroes over the last 30 or 40 years and two names keep recurring. One is Harry Evans. The other is Hugh Cudlipp.

Why were they so admired? Because they seemed to represent the best of journalistic virtues

6 Responses to “Rusbridger: Does Journalism Exist?”

  1. Ashley Friedlein

    I was going to say it but Jo above has pointed it out. The Guardian iPhone app costs £2.39, i.e. it is paid, and you get no ads in it (and it’s great, we’ve done a detailed review of it at So The Guardian is already doing paid content.

    At the moment I think the iPhone still only has around 2% penetration of UK handsets? And The Guardian website has around 10 million UK uniques a month? And they sold 70,000 in one month? So , very crudely they’ve converted 0.7% of 10m when the market size is 2%. That’s pretty good. That’s notionally almost 50% of ALL their iPhone users.

    Let’s imagine a year or two hence that 50% of us have iPhone or similar smartphones. And let’s imagine that actually these people will pay £2.39 *a month* as a subscription. They don’t want the paper, just the Guardian on their phone. Let’s say they convert at the same rate but the market of people with the right phones is now 25X as big and they’re effectively charging 12X as much because it’s monthly. That’s 70,000 X 25 = 1.75m X £2.39 X 12 = £50m+

    That’s twice what he says they got from digital advertising at £25m. Surely if they didn’t have all the loss-making legacy costs of the print side of the business you could turn a profit with a smartphone app that was delivering £50m+ a year with no advertising at all? Or do journalists really cost that much?

    So maybe the future for the Guardian might be “paid content” after all?

    I very rarely buy the Guardian newspaper these days because I get what I want from them online or on my phone. Surely I am not alone?

  2. Jim Cremin

    Alan’s lecture is helpful for putting The Guardian’s position into the context of the ‘citizen journalism’ phenomenon, this is plainly not a simplistic option of being for or against pay walls. It is worth disgesting – and thanks for allowing free access to it . . . for now! Jim [Racing Post staffer]

  3. “It should be entirely possible for a newspaper like the Guardian, filled with fantastic talent, to create successful paid content products alongside the core free product.”

    I agree largely with Evan. I wonder too if newspapers have focused too much on the need for their staffs to embrace Web 2.0 technologies for publication purposes and to collaborate with the wider audience. Have they been ignoring a deeper and possibly more pressing imperative to improve collaboration and extend diversity within the inhouse editorial talent pool that will differentiate mainstream news journalism more clearly from what emerges for free and aggregated from the niche, the blogosphere and Twitter?

  4. Evan, pay walls comes at a big risk – it will shift the profit model to producing content that consumers want to hear rather than the story that need to be told.

    Think of the mega-church model in America – most of these churches cannot preach what the congregation need to hear because the congregation will easily jump ship to another mega-church that is willing to tell them what they want to hear.

    The argument of pay walls is relevant when it comes to quality of journalism. I do not see pay wall as a solution other than a knee jerk reaction without regard to long-term consequences.

    If you guys put up a pay wall, you better be ready for for the zero-sum game of telling the people what they want to hear instead of reporting the story that is important…

  5. Alan Rusbridger is a thoughtful man but he’s aligned himself with an absolutist point-of-view — no paywalls.Along with Jeff Jarvis (whom, unsurprisingly, he’s hired as a columnist), Rusbridger is quickly becoming one of the leading opponents of the paid content strategy.However, the entire term “paywall” is a mischaracterization. There may be some who think they should erect a wall completely around their content. However, in reality an effective paid content strategy is more subtle and nuanced.It should be entirely possible for a newspaper like the Guardian, filled with fantastic talent, to create successful paid content products alongside the core free product. Considering the Guardian is losing £30 million per year, creating additional revenue streams ought to be a priority. It’s certainly better than laying off more journalists and editors. Paid content products might not close the gap entirely, but they will help. And if the core free product continues to erode, their importance will only increase.Yet Rusbridger keeps arguing against the straw man of paywalls. There is no nuance to his argument – – it’s black and white. Paywalls or free. For such a thoughtful man, it’s a surprisingly simplistic and narrow view. And because he’s gone so far out on a limb, it will be that much harder for the Guardian to climb down and try new things.Rusbridger is certainly a great philosopher regarding the future of journalism. But he is offering no new business ideas, and his current model is broken. So instead of pondering, and arguing unnecessarily against the false construct of “paywalls,” he’d be better off getting on with finding some new revenue streams.