Guardian’s Emily Bell Leaving For Columbia University

Life would be so boring without bolts from the blue, like this one; our colleague Emily Bell is leaving The Guardian to join the journalism school at Columbia University in New York, where she will head the Tow Center for Digital Journalism.

Bell is the director of digital content for Guardian News & Media, our parent company, and is credited with helping grow to a global news site with more than 36 million unique visitors. Roughly one third of its users come from the U.S.

Bell starts in July and “will continue to work (on strategy) and write for the Guardian on a consultancy basis” from New York, according to GNM’s announcement.

In her place, perhaps, comes’s editor Janine Gibson, who, “for the past 18 months, has taken a lead role in the operational side of the website, (and) will assume a wider strategic role in addition to her present duties”, says GNM editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger

But it’s unclear whether this is a direct replacement or an altered role: “She will be responsible for all our digital output including multimedia, mobile and product development.”

And the announcement hints cryptically at further changes: “We will be making further announcements about the development of the Guardian’s digital content in due course.” That will cause many to wonder what may be coming down the pipe.

At Tow, established this year, Bell will teach at the graduate level, work with news organizations to develop new business models, raise funds, oversee research and help oversee the new dual-degree engineering and journalism program, says the center’s own announcement.

Bell, who likes to quip her journalism career started on Big Farm Weekly, joined The Observer in 1990, was named business editor eight years later, launched in 2000 and became online editor-in-chief in 2001.

The paper, like others, now finds itself with large numbers of unique users and has sought to embrace its newfound U.S., audience. But it’s still considering how to really profit from the web. In September, Rusbridger acknowledged: “Since 2002/3, our spending on (operational and capex) has exceeded revenue by just £20 million.” Annual online revenue was reported to be £30 million, though parent GMG’s financials don’t break it out.

Amid this, Bell is amongst The Guardian’s most vocal sceptics toward charging for most news content on the website, declaring the idea “stupid” and ruling it out. But’s mobile app comes with a one-off price and, it’s thought, may move toward a subscription model.

GNM has undergone significant layoffs and Bell is the second stalwart decision-maker exiting the publisher in a matter of weeks. GMG CEO Carolyn McCall – who is keen on identifying niche areas of that might be chargeable – is leaving to run easyJet.

Staci adds: Just got off the phone with GNM Managing Director Tim Brooks, who said Bell’s departure won’t alter the company’s digital strategy laid out publicly by Rusbridger earlier this year. Brooks described the summary version as Guardian “turning its back on paywalls” although its “slightly more nuanced than that.” (He sees the Daily Mail’s announcement that it will forgo paywalls as an endorsement.) “We have a clear direction and strategy; none of that will be blown off course by the fact that Emily’s going to the world’s leading journalism school.”

Bell has held one of the editorial slots on the GNM board since 2006; it’s up to Rusbridger to fill the slot.