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Editor’s Note: Encyclo has not been regularly updated since August 2014, so information posted here is likely to be out of date and may be no longer accurate. It’s best used as a snapshot of the media landscape at that point in time.

The Guardian is a foundation-owned national British newspaper known for its global reach and liberal editorial stance.

The Guardian was founded in 1821 as the Manchester Guardian (it was moved to London in 1964). In 1936, ownership of the paper was passed on to the Scott Trust, which has pledged to maintain the paper’s independence and liberal editorial tradition and to reinvest whatever profit it makes.

The Guardian is a national newspaper, and two-thirds of its online readers are outside the U.K. It is believed to have the fifth most-read English-language news site and, as of 2013, the third-most-read English-language newspaper site in the world. As of late 2012, it had a newsroom of approximately just under 600 employees.

The Guardian had a print circulation in 2013 of about 160,000, far from the largest in Britain. Its web readership is much greater, however, with more than 100 million monthly unique visitors in 2014, including, as of 2013, at least 20 million in the U.S. By the end of that year its U.S. traffic exceeded its U.K. traffic, though as of 2014, it had the highest U.K. traffic of any newspaper in that country. The paper’s total monthly British readership was estimated via survey at 8.95 million in mid-2012, with more than half of that total coming online.

The Guardian launched an American edition of its website in 2007 (which was closed in 2009), and it has articulated an aim to become the “leading global liberal voice.” In March 2011, The Guardian announced plans for an expanded digital operation in the U.S., naming editor Janine Gibson as the head of the effort and later hiring blogger Glenn Greenwald, who announced in 2013 he would leave the paper to create his own news organization. It announced it would open a West Coast office in 2014, and began collaborating with numerous American news organizations on various projects. It also launched a digital Australian edition in 2013. In print, however, the paper announced it would stop its international editions as of October 2011 and cut other print supplements.

The Guardian is published under the Scott Trust by Guardian News and Media, which also publishes the London daily newspaper The Observer. It also owns the web economics network ContentNext Media and half of the business publisher Emap. In 2014, it sold its half-share of the classifed network Trader Media Group for £619 million.

Guardian News and Media has lost money each of the past six years, including £33 million in 2010, £31.1 million in 2011, £44.2 million in 2012, and £30.9 million in 2013. Its parent company, Guardian Media Group, reported a 2013 profit of £22.7 million. The paper’s losses are offset by the trust’s assets.

Based in part on those financial difficulties, the Guardian’s executives announced in June 2011 a “digital first” strategy aimed at doubling the company’s digital revenues within five years. In 2012, 75% of the Guardian’s revenue was generated from print, and as of 2013, it was generating 28% of its revenue from digital. In the strategy’s first year, the company lost $69 million, prompting plans of further cuts and restructuring. In early 2014, however, its digital revenue rose about 25% to £70 million.

In 2010, The Guardian, along with newspapers like The New York Times and Der Spiegel, produced reporting on the war in Afghanistan as a result of 92,000 documents related to the war being released from WikiLeaks. The Guardian collaborated with Wikileaks again in November 2010 for the coordinated release and reporting of secret U.S. Embassy cables. (It also gave its WikiLeaks-provided cables to The New York Times, which had fallen out of favor with WikiLeaks after an unflattering profile of the organization’s founder, Julian Assange.) In early 2011, The Guardian published a book chronicling its interactions with Assange and WikiLeaks.

The Guardian was one of the leading news organizations to publish stories based on U.S. National Security Agency documents leaked in 2013 by Edward Snowden, winning a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage. The paper acquired the documents through its then-blogger and journalist Glenn Greenwald. The British government forced The Guardian to destroy its hard copies of the documents, threatened the paper’s editors with prosecution, and required editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger to testify before a Parliament committee. In 2014, on the one-year anniversary of Snowden’s leak, The Guardian launched a leaking platform called SecureDrop.


The Guardian’s website, Guardian.co.uk, was founded in 1998 as the Guardian Unlimited, and the paper’s executives have expressed for several years a desire to move away from the paper’s print product and toward digital media. The paper formally moved to web-first publishing in 2006.

The Guardian formerly offered a paid subscription to an ad-free version of its website, but its executives have opposed online paywalls more recently, a stance that has earned both praise and criticism. In 2010, it launched a membership program called Guardian Extra. The program, which offers live events, discounts, and other perks, initially cost members £25 a year; currently, however, the program is offering free trial memberships. Its executives have hinted since then at going deeper into membership models. The paper created a digital strategy director position in 2012 to head up its business strategies online.

The Guardian was the first British newspaper to open its content to developers through an API in 2009. The paper has also been active in crowdsourcing, asking readers to help provide information about G20 protests, MPs’ expenses, and Tony Blair’s tax affairs.

Its editor, Alan Rusbridger, has been an advocate of what he calls the “mutualization” of journalism or “open journalism” — an approach to news production that relies on a collaborative relationship between journalists and the public. In 2010, The Guardian put that idea to use when it gave a group of science bloggers direct access to its CMS and implemented a revenue-sharing arrangement with them. The next year, it experimented with opening up its list of upcoming stories to the public and launched an open community news platform called n0tice with ads and revenue sharing, later releasing an open API for it. It also began partnering with the crowdfunding site Kickstarter to create a page in which it highlights noteworthy journalistic projects.

In 2013, it created a free mobile and tablet app that allowed users to send content directly to the paper’s content management system. It also launched a “citizens’ agenda”-driven initiative for 2012 U.S. election coverage in partnership with New York University, and began acting as a platform for British arts organizations and moving into journalism training that year as well.

In 2012, the Guardian held its first Open Weekend, opening its newsroom to the public and encouraging readers to become involved in its news process. As part of that weekend, it articulated its 10 principles of open journalism.

In late 2009, The Guardian launched a paid iPhone app that drew 100,000 downloads in the first two months. Its next iPhone app, launched in January 2011, had been downloaded 400,000 times by June 2011. In 2010, it launched a free iPad app, Guardian Eyewitness, which features digital images from the paper. (Rusbridger has also expressed a desire to “produce significant revenue” through paid content on the iPad.) The paper also launched an edition for Amazon’s Kindle in July 2011, and in late 2012 launched a responsive mobile website. The Guardian’s mobile website accounts for 10% of its overall digital traffic.

As of 2012, the paper draws about 600,000 comments to its website per month. The paper launched a Facebook social-news app in September 2011, drawing 8 million installations in its first six months and shifting much of its traffic from search to social. It shut down the app in December 2012, in part because of changes to Facebook’s News Feed that exposed fewer people to its content there. In 2014, the paper began experimenting with an algorithmically produced print edition based in part on social media metrics.

In 2006, The Guardian began a group opinion blog with Guardian and Observer columnists called Comment Is Free (the name derives from a saying of C.P. Scott, a longtime Guardian editor). The paper launched a network of hyperlocal beat blogs in early 2010, shutting them down a year later. It has also experimented with offering a printable PDF newspaper with stories aggregated from its websites.

The Guardian began running native advertising campaigns in 2014 with an in-house content unit called Guardian Labs. The unit will involve journalists as well as advertising staffers.

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Primary author: Mark Coddington. Main text last updated: August 28, 2014.
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