Learning from The Guardian’s web strategy

Yesterday I listened to Tim Brooks talking about the web strategy for Guardian News and Media.  Now Tim is probably in the most enviable position of any media executive, with the backing of the Scott Trust, and having just moved to modern premises at King’s Place, but I think his views – which were, as ever, very strongly expressed – have relevance to those of us with much more modest budgets….

1. On integrating the editorial team

The Guardian, Observer and web teams, previously spread over 5 locations, are now all in one building, and the section heads across all three are with line of sight. There is a single newsdesk, and single subject teams, eg environment, arts. All journalists now have new skills on web, video and audio, and the discussion on the news agenda for the day covers all three publications.  The Observer has kept its own distinctive “commentariat” but all else is shared.  Smaller publishers should take note…

2. On never again launching a print product

All GNM’s future investment is now in digital – they will not launch a print product.  The decline in the newspaper habit among younger age groups is inexorable.  Magazine publishers may feel they have more time on their side, but this may give them pause for thought on print-only launches.

3. On finding a new business model for quality journalism

All the broadsheet papers are losing money, and many are surviving only due to the support of other businesses in their group.  This situation is repeated in regional and local press. The old model of recruitment and display advertising that indirectly funded quality journalism is under threat.  A new business model is needed – the next generation of aspiring journalists will have to start out blogging to build a reputation.  This approach worked for Rafat Ali – he started at his kitchen table and 10 years later sold his business Content Next to Guardian News and Media for a tidy sum…

4. On the new broadcasters

The old broadcast model relied on scarce spectrum dished out to TV companies by Ofcom in return for public service obligations and heavy regulation.  The commercial press is now becoming an online broadcaster – all GNM journalists create video and audio – but this is self-regulated and available to all.

5. On charging for content

The Guardian will never charge for its content – Tim’s view is that would cut their audience by 90%.  Now GNM can sustain this through an ad downturn, but what about smaller commercial publishers?  Perhaps the model is to offer free content to widen your brand’s reach, and then work hard to sell another product, maybe a print subscription, an event ticket or another service.

I’d love to hear your views on how far the Guardian’s strategy has relevance to smaller publishers – just click on the comment button.

Carolyn Morgan’s consultancy business, Penmaen Media, advises media owners on how to grow their revenues in a digital world.  For more info, visit www.penmaen.media.


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