Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, answered questions in an Ask Me Anything thread on Reddit today. Most of the conversation focused on the NSA PRISM leak, but he also goes into detail about his understanding of the paper’s business model and strategy.
Asks redditor davemolloy:
The news business is notorious for not making money. Do these big, global scoops have any noticeable effect on circulation or any positive business impact?
Or are they part of the civic duty element of news reporting, to be investigated no matter how much they cost in man hours, legal fees,and so on?
Or, put another way: what do the accountants make of these big investigations? Thanks!
To which Rusbridger responded:
Complicated answer: huge readership on mobile and website. Hasn’t made much impact on print sales. So, no direct revenues. It has also been very expensive: it’s involved a considerable number of reporters, several lawyers, a great deal of cost in travel/hotels etc etc.
Happily, the Guardian has been owned by a family Trust since the 1930s. That means that the main imperative for what we do is journalistic. The business side of the operation completely support this kind of editorial endeavour because they understand that’s the mission.
Having said that, we do have to make money. And this kind of reporting does – hopefully – reinforce a perception of the Guardian as a paper that still does proper journalism. And that, in the end, builds a readership and a reputation. And that’s being reflected in our digital revenues (grew last year 28.9% to £55.9m). So, in the end, good journalism = good business. That’s the theory, anyway!
Also of note, Rusbridger was asked a variant of the now traditional Reddit query: Would you rather fight 100 duck-sized horses or one horse-sized duck?