Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (pictured, Reuters) has criticised the News UK online model, describing paywalls as a “19th century business model”.
He has said that from a journalistic viewpoint, The Guardian’s “open” online strategy – giving away content for free – is “light years” better, although he could not say yet whether it was the best strategy commercially.
Speaking to BBC Radio 4 Today presenter Evan Davis, he said: “I don’t know of a single journalist, a single journalist, who would prefer to have a closed model.
“I think if you work for The Times or The Sunday Times and you tweet your pieces knowing that no one is ever going to click on them because you’re going to have to pay and go through a paywall, and that your work is going to be read by a tiny number of people, is not going to be shared, distributed, read abroad, bounced around the world… I can’t think of any journalist who would prefer that to the open model.
“So I think journalistically there is no question that the open model is not miles better, light years better. So the question is whether one works financially better than the other, and it’s difficult to tell.”
Rusbridger was being interviewed by Davis at an Institute of Practitioners in Advertising lunch.
He said his aim at The Guardian is to ensure the title's long-term survival: “When I think about perpetuity, I think that’s probably going to be digital. And I look at the behaviour of the young people and how they share and distribute and collect and read information, and I think it looks more like how we’re [The Guardian] behaving than people who are hiding behind big paywalls, which is essentially a 19th century business model.”
Asked about his regrets as editor, Rusbridger talked about slow development in the use of video and said that this year “we will move this year in video".
He also said that three years ago, the paper had been employing “20 per cent” of the digital developers needed to match his ambitions. He added: “So we now have about 130 developers, and at the time we had about 30. And I think that was holding us back so we weren’t moving fast enough.”
Towards the end of the discussion, the BBC’s Davis suggested that there are too many newspapers in the British market, which Rusbridger denied.
Davis said: “Really, we need, don’t we… a healthy, vibrant, five-newspaper industry, good newspapers, well resourced, print and online. We need three dailies to go out of business don’t we? There’s just a ridiculous over capacity in this market. How does that happen? We don’t seem to be seeing papers exiting the market, which is what happens when the technology changes and the demand for that product diminishes.”
To which Rusbridger replied: “Well, I’m going to make a very cheap point here, Evan, and say that the same is true of the BBC. We need the BBC to go out of the market.”
But he did say the BBC performs a “tremendous public good”, despite his “hate [of] it as a competitor”.
When Rusbridger first joined The Guardian, Davis said, he said he liked to take a “cuddly” approach to management.
Asked by Davis whether he had since moved to a more “Thatcherite” approach, Rusbridger described his current position as “somewhere between cuddly and Thatcherite”
He added: “Trying to get people to think things through themselves, I think that’s what I mean by cuddly. But in the end somebody has to make a decision and people aren’t going to like that and maybe I have gone a tiny bit on the less cuddly side as the years have gone on.”
Here is the Davis-Rusbridger interview, which took place last month, in full: