The newspaper as platform. Or, how to pay for the press

Ken Auletta's profile of Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, weighed the paper's fearless reputation with the fact that it's hemorrhaging Pound Sterling. Good journalism is expensive, says the editor who has overseen the Snowden, Wikileaks and British phone hacking stories, and Rusbridger spoke on his plans to fix the paper's leaky finances. 

The Guardian only has 60,000 paid subscribers in the UK, far, far below its nearest competitors. So Rusbinger, along with the Trust that overseas the paper, sought to push beyond the Guardian's natural borders to become a global brand So far, they've opened up digital editions in the US and Australia, hoping to connect to globalized, liberal English-speaking professionals. (The paper may be planning an edition in India.) However, the paper's digital editions remain free, which forces Rusbridger to dream of new avenues to find revenue. 

From Auletta:

Eventually, Rusbridger predicts, between the Guardian’s worldwide reach and a more aggressive effort to reach its younger, liberal, well-educated audience, ad dollars will pour in. “It will work for us because of scale and innovation,” Rusbridger told me. “With a rigid pay wall, you end up with a small, élite audience, with restricted access for everyone else. We want a large audience and international influence, and not just with élites. That appears to be an attractive mission for advertisers.” The Guardian doesn’t need to be profitable, so long as its losses are reduced and the trust can continue to subsidize them with its other businesses.

Rusbridger seemed to be hedging some of his bets on the newspaper as platform, an idea that has made its way around the Library -- and other information -- industries. Think a portal like Facebook, which has opened up its network for private developers to build things for users. Here's a piece by David Weinberger in Library Journal, explaining what it would mean for a Library to become  a  more open, less proprietary platform. The organization must: 

  • Be open to all
  • Give access to every scrap of information it has, including its digital content, but also metadata about that content, its usage, and the social interactions around it
  • Enable new products and services to be built by anyone with an idea
  • Integrate everything the library knows into the entire Net ecosystem

The Guardian has already tried this in small ways. In 2009, the paper made Parliament expense reports available to readers, who could then comb through them and analyze questionable items. 23,000 people participated in this crowd-sourcing, Rusbridger told Auletta. 

Here's what he learned from it:  

The path forward lies in what he calls “open journalism,” meaning a newspaper that not only is free for anyone to read but invites readers to participate in the journalistic venture. The bet is that greater reader involvement will attract a bigger audience, and more advertising dollars.