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It was the first major news organisation to introduce live blogging, and the first to open commenting across its site. With 120-million unique visitors this January, theguardian.com has become one the world’s most popular and important news websites. Yet after two decades of spearheading its online growth, The Guardian‘s editor announced his departure last year.
This past week, four internal candidates presented their arguments for why they should be the next editor-in-chief. Each statement offered an intimate view into how these candidates view themselves, what they think the role of an editor should be and the emphasis they place on the British newspaper’s online expansion.
By now it’s hardly news that the newspaper industry is struggling, or that the internet could potentially save their ailing business models. No news organisation has quite figured out how to be profitable online, but everyone knows it’s an area that needs more experimentation.
So you’d expect all four candidates to say something about their vision for theguardian.com’s future. But each has quite a different approach, and when you take a closer look you’ll be surprised what you could learn from their thinking about the future of journalism online. Below a list of the four internal candidates and their views on “the digital revolution”.
For those putting money on the candidates, betting odds are favouring Janine Gibson who “likes crosswords” according to her biography. The biggest feather in her digital cap was launching The Guardian‘s US-based online home after tripling its 7-million monthly uniques in only three years. During her tenure, The Guardian US won a Pulitzer Prize for the stories journalist Glen Greenwall wrote after meeting Edward Snowden.
In her motivation Gibson says “the longterm home of journalism is on the internet” and sets out to debate how print and online can continue to operate side by side. But it requires a startup approach, she says, since The Guardian‘s digital rivals “are hiring games developers”.
The intersection between game developers and journalism is not a new idea, and has in fact been going on for years now. There’s not too much detail in exactly how she would take the paper forward digitally, and although hiring game developers is a good idea, it doesn’t necessarily make you a digitally-first newsroom.
Emily Bell was put in charge of The Guardian‘s online operations back in 2001 when the website was still on Day 0. However after 9/11 the website became popular across the world for its diverse viewpoints, markedly absent from more established US newspaper websites.
Bell led experiments with interactive graphics, multimedia, mobile and data journalism that saw theguardian.co.uk (before it became .com) beat The New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal at the Webbys for 3 consecutive years to be crowned Best Newspaper.
Under Bell, the website became profitable for the first time and traffic grew from 1-million to over 50-million in just a few short years.
At this point I have to admit my bias. Bell is a former professor, hands-down the greatest professor I’ve had. Her understanding of the intersection between tech and journalism is in my view unparalleled. The Guardian has opened its newsroom to readers more than others have thanks to the internet. Practising transparency the paper would lead you on its paper trail through PDFs and classified documents that, with the user’s help, made them one of the best resources for WikiLeaks. In her motivation Bell writes: “We made our reporting more trustworthy and transparent by allowing more open interaction with readers. We made ourselves visible to sources such as Edward Snowden, and we became a sought-after partner for other news organisations and a desirable place to work through our understanding of the internet and the reach it gave our stories.”
Instead of referring specifically to gaming developers, Bell continues: “We need more data and computationally literate reporters, editors and designers, we need thorough digital security training and practices, and we need journalists who understand how to use the vast amount of information on the social web using search and verification techniques.”
Bell truly believes that journalism has perhaps one of the most important roles to play in building and deploying new technologies and using that to hold systems of power to account. Consider documentaries like “We Steal Secrets” or Oscar-winner “CITIZENFOUR” if you don’t understand that statement.
The only male candidate — also the only German — doesn’t include such specifics about his views on what the future holds for the paper as his fellow candidates do. Wolfgang Blau does however address the perceived threat that technology pose to newspapers head on and goes as far to suggest that the daily newspapers might actually not be around in another three years. It’s highly unlikely that those voting for the position want to hear that.
The second favourite among bookies, Kaharine Viner, sounds like ink still runs through her veins as her 13-point statement proclaims the paper’s purpose is simply to “report, report, report”. Aside from calling for “new digital ways” the specifics of what she thinks The Guardian should do online is vague. But again that’s perhaps not the kind of details Guardian staff are looking for when casting their ballot for the next boss.
Whoever ends up as editor, the paper’s journalism will increasingly be linked to communication technologies. As Bell would put it: “Every time an algorithm is tweaked, an editorial decision is being made.” Regardless of who takes the helm later this year, we hope The Guardian continues its strides in technology building more tools and software in the service of journalism.
Image: albyantoniazzi via Flickr.