Rusbridger Redux

rusbridger-banged-out

Rusbridger was banged out of the building by his staff last week. His successor is Katharine Viner:

kath-viner

He wrote his own obituary for his editorship in his last paper, it seems only right that the Guardian’s fiercest critics should have a look back as well.

Rusbridger bet big on digital; The Times, Telegraph and cash-starved Indy don’t really match The Guardian in the quality of their digital offer. Rusbridger decided on digital first before the other papers – some of which still hold back the best stories for the second edition to serve yesterday’s news in tomorrow’s papers – which doesn’t really cut it in the digital age. The second big bet was on a “free-to-air” model with no internet paywall. The Mail and The Guardian are both close to making this work financially, the jury is still out as to if the greater scale of advertising will trump paywall subscriptions. The Guardian’s mobile app is quite simply way ahead of any other British newspaper’s app.

Rusbridger maintained the liberal traditions of the paper, it is safe to say the editorial values of the Guardian and Guido clash. We’re believers in the liberating power and prowess of capitalism in raising living standards for all. They’re hand-wringing worriers about social justice who want to tax us into equality. So much for economics as politics by other means. However we’re admirers of the tenacity with which Rusbridger pursued some stories – phone hacking was mostly indefensible, the Snowden revelations were in the public interest, as were the Wikileaks revelations – which they handled well in the circumstances.

Rusbridger’s Guardian lost money, this along with their shifty offshore assets tax hypocrisy was a constant theme of ours for years. Guido believes that profit is the best guarantor of independence. A multiplicity of revenue streams means never being so dependent that you are compromised. The Guardian’s business model has profit as a secondary consideration, having succeeded in creating a massive tax efficient endowment from selling Auto Trader. If they don’t overspend too much that will last them for many decades yet and, even if they do, Liz Forgan told Guido that she could see a few billionaires endowing their brand of liberal journalism in perpetuity.

On balance as a news brand Rusbridger’s Guardian is a triumph, as a business less so. However, to be fair, who in the newspaper business has been more successful?

Two anecdotes: Guido was once cornered at an awards ceremony by Rusbridger’s two daughters, they physically pinned him to a pillar and berated him for an age – in no uncertain terms – for being sexist and, far more importantly, mean to their father. On recounting this story to Alan he literally beamed with fatherly pride.

Some years before that, at a think-tank lunch, Rusbridger was the guest speaker and positively glared at Guido throughout his talk on the difficulties of keeping a newspaper viable in the dawning digital age. When it came for questions he seized the moment to have a go back at Guido. Pointing his finger, he sneered “you’d probably be glad to see us go under, wouldn’t you, well?” At this point Guido turned to the chairman of the lunch: “This is under Chatham House rules, isn’t it? None of us can report who says what?” The chairman nodded. Guido turned back to Rusbridger, “Whenever I am abroad on holiday it is the paper I choose to buy for the breadth and depth of coverage. You edit one of the greatest papers in the world.” Deflated, Alan slumped back in his chair with a bemused grin…


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