Guardian staff will file stories for the web first

From next week Guardian journalists are to embark on a "landmark" change in the way they work by publishing all news stories on the newspaper's website up to 24 hours before they come out in print.

The change will initially affect only foreign coverage, then City journalists. However, it could later spread across the paper.

Although Guardian Unlimited, the paper's website, has its own staff of around 100 journalists producing website copy throughout the day, stories written for the newspaper have previously been published for the internet en masse at around midnight on the day of publication.

The change reflects the fact that while the print edition of The Guardian sells 374,580 copies a day, Guardian Unlimited has 12.9 million "unique users" a month, mostly from outside the UK.

Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger told Press Gazette: "It seems to me that the move to a situation in which the digital edition becomes as important, if not more important, than the print edition — some would argue that's already happened at The Guardian in terms of our global presence — seems to me to be inevitable.

"The advertising is already going that way. I think it's not viable for newspapers to carry on with a once-a-day print deadline because that's the way that we've done it for 200 years.

"If we don't wake up and realise we are competing with people on a daily basis who are beating us by 12, 18 and 24 hours on stories, then we are heading to irrelevance."

Foreign correspondents will continue to be commissioned by their editors, and their stories also be subbed and processed in the normal way.

But Rusbridger said they will now "not be constrained by the amount of space that we have in the paper — that system of correspondents being frustrated by not getting copy in on busy days, now they can file as and when they want to."

He added: "The one thing we don't want to be is running a news agency. The idea isn't to turn Guardian reporters into agency reporters. There will still be the same quality control as we had before."

He said the move was an "important landmark" for The Guardian and would take effect from next week.

Rusbridger said that the City pages would also begin moving to the same system from next week.

He said: "Nearly all City information is now available on the day, and it seems to me a bit old-fashioned waiting for an artificial print deadline in order to put up City stories."

According to Rusbridger, the intention is for 95 per cent of stories to go straight up on the internet. He said: "If we had a world exclusive interview with George Bush that everyone was going to follow up, we might hold that back for the print edition."

Rusbridger said that when Guardian Newspapers moves offices to a new central site at King's Cross in two years time, greater convergence between the print and web teams, who currently work in separate offices, was "bound to happen".

The change in The Guardian's priorities comes as the paper begins a major expansion of its website to build on the 5.1 million "unique users" it currently has Stateside.

Rusbridger has also revealed plans to double the US-based reporting team and follow The Times by printing a US edition. This comes as the BBC and The Times are also xpanding into the US.

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