'We took the biggest risk, so it's the richest reward'

Alan Rusbridger’s £80 million gamble on changing The Guardian to Berliner format paid off this week as he picked up the top prize — newspaper of the year — at the British Press Awards.

And he told Press Gazette that he believes the twin successes of The Guardian in print and online will safeguard it for at least a decade.

Rusbridger said: "We took the biggest gamble this year and the biggest risk… so in a sense it’s the richest reward and I’m thrilled to have it."

Referring to the decision to switch The Guardian to the untested Berliner format last September, he said: "The great thing the British press has is its variety. When we were thinking about what we should do in shape and form and tone it seemed to us that we ought to offer the public variety — it would have been easy to go tabloid."

The Guardian’s post-Berliner circulation gains have yet to wipe out the losses it suffered two years ago when The Times and The Independent brought out tabloid versions. Responding to that, Rusbridger said: "We have 14 million people a month who come to us free of charge through the website. If you asked any editor to maintain print circulation at the same time as giving away a fantastic free offering it would be unrealistic.

"The fact that we are so strong in print and online is going to stand us in good stead for the future.

"We’ve been through the difficult decision to buy new presses and go to full colour that others have got to make, so we are set for the next 10 years."

After last year’s allegations of rowdiness, and a controversial on-stage speech from Bob Geldof, this year’s Press Gazette-organised awards passed without incident.

Last year The Sun and the News of the World picked up most of the top prizes, with eight trophies in all — but this year there was a more even spread between the tabloids and the up-market papers.

The Sunday Times picked up four prizes and The Mirror, The Sun and The Observer each took home three.

For the second year running a showbiz story won scoop of the year — last year it was the News of the World revealing footballer David Beckham’s alleged adultery and this year it was the Mirror’s Kate Moss cocaine revelations.

Reporter Stephen Moyes firmly rejected suggestions that because it was a celeb story, it was just an easy buy-up.

He said: "It was about seven months of getting alongside the right people and building up trust, a lot of near misses and a lot of wasted all-night parties.

"But the pay-off was such that it was worth telling the news desk for seven months, ‘I’m working on this.’"

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