Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, spoke to BBC Radio 4's Media Show about the paper's recent decision to face the future with a "digital-first" strategy. He confirmed what most commentators already suspected, namely that the new strategy would result in "significant" job cuts.
According to Rusbridger, The Guardian's declining revenues and print readership are in line with the developments in the industry in general. He described the new strategy as a response to a "pre-crisis moment", a change of course before the newspaper is forced to make vicious editorial cuts, resulting in a lower-quality paper: "You don't want to get into that spiral of decline that we've seen with a lot of American newspapers."
As part of the strategy involves moving mobile and multimedia journalism to a more prominent place, the paper is preparing to hire more developers and other staff with expertise in digital news.
As for the resulting editorial changes, Rusbridger acknowledged that the paper couldn't employ as many people in the future as it does now. "We will need to lose significant numbers but we don't need to do it by tomorrow. We can do it over the next couple of years and we can have a civilised conversation about that." Including its sister publication The Observer, The Guardian currently employs 630 journalists.
Implementing a "digital-first" strategy also means readjusting to readers' changing reading habits, Rusbridger said. The Guardian's website is currently seeing a growth pattern of 40 percent, as majority of people go online for breaking news but read the print paper in the evening. In light of this, the print edition will be changed to emphasise analysis while news updates will be published online.
In the long run, however, the future of the print edition may at risk. "I would have thought that we are going to be in print for some time yet," Rusbridger said, adding that he thought that delivering news in print was essentially "a Victorian chain of distribution."
Roy Greenslade discussed the news in London Evening Standard, saying that "the response is all about positioning GMG (Guardian Media Group) for the future when the company believes publishing of newsprint will become untenable." Voice of Russia speculated that The Guardian "is most likely to become the first [major British newspaper] to leave the newspaper stands for the Internet."
According to Journalism.co.uk, The Guardian saw a circulation drop of 12,5 percent year-on-year to 262,937 in April. By contrast, its digital traffic saw a 31 percent increase, with 2,4 million unique users the same month. Overall turnover for Guardian Media Group was £221 million in the 2009/2010 financial year. That figure dropped to £198 million in 2010/2011, £23 million less.
Adopting a digital-first strategy may seem like a necessity in the current media climate, in which print circulation is going down across the board. However, The Guardian is the first major newspaper to take radical steps towards reorganising its operations for this aim. As such, many others will surely keep a close eye on it to see whether the investment pays off.