Guardian editor: Paywall 'not really a conversation' anymore as donations model gives advantage of scale
Guardian News and Media editor-in-chief Katharine Viner has said a hard paywall â€œisnâ€™t really a conversation” at the news groupÂ anymore as she declared its “rewarding” donations method to be working.
Viner said analysis carried out by the group showed revenue from a paywall would equal what it currently earns from subscriptions and contributions, but without the advantage of “scale”.
Although she said she “wouldn’t rule anything out” when pressed on the Guardian’s business model at a Women in Journalism event hosted by London’s City University on Tuesday.
Viner said feedback from readers showed that people are choosing to give money for the Guardianâ€™s â€œserious stuffâ€�, such as reporting on environment, health, science and US President Donald Trump.
â€œThatâ€™s really great because thatâ€™s why we exist,â€� she said. â€œWe exist to understand and contextualise the world and thatâ€™s what they tell us they appreciate.â€�
The Guardian’s editor of almost four years added that it was a â€œrewarding way to be fundedâ€�, especially after receiving feedback from readers who say they like the model and want to pay for investigative journalism.
She said readers have claimed it is the â€œonly progressive publication working at scaleâ€�.
The Guardian publishes all of its content online, which is free to access, as well as on its free app. Viner said she “didn’t see it coming” that people would pay â€œso other people can get it for free, which was quite movingâ€�.
Viner did not reject outright the notion that the group’s print products might eventually close, telling interviewer and Guardian colleague Jane Martinson:Â â€œI canâ€™t say when that would be.
â€œOur print readers are incredibly devoted and itâ€™s a really important part of their lives, but obviously particularly the issue around distribution becomes more difficult each yearâ€¦ [we are] certainly committed to it for now.â€�
Viner added that if the Guardian closed in print, there would be a strategy in place to protect the Observer as a distinct online presence, but reiterated that she was â€œnot looking to a no-print future anytime soonâ€�.
She also confirmed that Guardian News and Media is still on track to break even in April this year after a three-year plan to turn its finances around.
In 2018, the group made its presence felt in the UK media, with the Observer’s Cambridge Analytica, which made global headlines, and the Guardian’s coverage of the Windrush scandals.
The paper also turned tabloid, launched a new daily podcast and relaunched both its mobile app and international magazine Guardian Weekly.
But Viner said 2019 should be about consolidating those changes rather than another year of upheaval.
After Observer journalistÂ Carole Cadwalladr’s story about data firm Cambridge Analytica harvesting the data of millions of Facebook users led to the social media giant’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg to appear before Congress, Viner saidÂ the Guardianâ€™s aim during the technology revolution is to â€œreport on it and understand it, contextualise it and see it for what it isâ€�.
â€œThe whole technology revolution might end up being a really positive thing and I donâ€™t want us to miss that if thatâ€™s the case, but at the same time I want us to report on what the big players are doing,â€� she said.
Viner was the first female editor in the Guardianâ€™s almost 200-year history and said although there has been progress for women in the news industry over the last two decades she was â€œfrustrated because it isnâ€™t that much betterâ€�.
She went on: â€œYou still see so much sexist coverage of women in the news and you see women being given roles and men being given different kinds of roles, but itâ€™s obviously better and Iâ€™m just watching out for your generation to make it absolutely equal â€“ no pressure,â€� she said in response to a City studentâ€™s question.
Asked if she ever faced sexism in her career, Viner said: â€œYes I did â€“ of course, Iâ€™m a womanâ€�, but advised others against being as â€œoutspokenâ€� as she often was.
â€œI would be careful about encouraging others to do that because I think it can be quite dangerous in some workplaces.
“I used to complain so much if there was something sexist in the paperâ€¦ but I worry that, the Guardian is a particular place, itâ€™s always been better for women than lots of other places as you might expect – itâ€™s a feminist organisation.
â€œSo I would be careful about being so outspoken. You need to judge your own workplace.â€�
Sharing her tips for new journalists, Viner recommended working on data skills – “how to use data, how to read data sets, how to spot a story in it… the whole world is turning into data” – and personal skills such as “learning how to get someone to open up to you and tell you the truth when perhaps they donâ€™t want to but they know they should”.
She also recommended developing a specialism or finding an area that not many other people know about, and being prepared to do “really menial things”.
Source: Digital Journalism