Mark Colvin of Australia’s ABC News recently interviewed Alan Rusbridger, editor of The Guardian, on the news organization’s approach to digital publishing. One of Colvin’s questions focused on digital versus print income from advertising:
MARK COLVIN: I was just talking to an editor here in Sydney quite recently and I was talking about exactly this and he said yes but where are you going to get a replacement for the big amounts of money that you get for those full page ads, for cars or for department stores or whatever?
ALAN RUSBRIDGER: Take a step back. The question is whether you believe that print is going to be that resilient. If you do then, you know, then I’m the last person to be saying that you should be bailing out of print but when you look at the, in Britain and American and most of Europe, you look at the slide in circulation, you just have to question the long-term survivability of print.
MARK COLVIN: Do you think that you will be producing a Guardian in print in the year 2020 say?
ALAN RUSBRIDGER: I’ve got no idea. I think the forces that are bearing down on the industry at the moment are so unpredictable and extraordinary it’s sort of fruitless to speculate and in a sense I don’t mind. It’s beyond my control. It’ll be in the hands of people who are going to invent the digital devices, it’ll be in the decisions of readers and my overwhelming aim is just to keep on producing The Guardian in a form which will suit whatever technology people invent.
Rusbridger’s response indicates that his organization understands that the digital shift is so significant that the best they can do is work with the audience to determine the best way forward. Perhaps Rusbridger has a better sense of what’s going on because The Guardian occupies a unique place among British news organizations: its parent, Guardian Media Group, is owned by the Scott Trust, a limited corporation set up in 1936 by the paper’s then-owner, John Scott, to protect its editorial and financial independence. This keeps the organization insulated from the short-term, quarterly performance demands placed on a public company, and likely gives The Guardian both the time and responsibility to find the best ways to adapt to the digital shift.