Today I start a new job, Director of Digital Strategy at Guardian Media Group. The change is part of a wider move happening here at the company (see below).
The job will probably have a few different aspects to it, but the overall intent is for me to work very closely with GMG CEO Andrew Miller (my new boss) and Editor Alan Rusbridger and everyone in the business to align what we’re good at with where the market is going.
I’ve learned a few things about that already. The question I get asked more than any other when people want to learn about the Guardian’s Open Platform is, “How did you convince the business to back it?”
To be honest, I don’t know how to answer that. There was a lot of powerpointing to define a view of the market we wanted to play in. We benefited from establishing some important vision statements like “weaving the Guardian into the fabric of the Internet”. I had tireless support from Mike Bracken and an engineering team that already knew what to build.
But nobody needed to be convinced. The hard part really was figuring out how to get from idea to launch. And then I just acted as shepherd.
To me, the more interesting question isn’t about selling an idea but rather one of culture, “What is it about the Guardian that makes it possible to be so bold digitally?”
There are some obvious reasons like the ownership structure, the people, the tradition of openness, etc. Editor Alan Rusbridger expanded on our operating philosophy here in an article titled “Openness, Collaboration Key to New Information Ecosystem” which was published by Poynter in the September report “Brave New Worlds: Navigating the New Media Landscape (pdf)”:
“To us it seems fairly evident there are two features of this new information ecosystem which it would be foolish to ignore, whichever camp you’re in: openness and collaboration. …I don’t see that as particularly Utopian. I think of it as a basic necessity for survival.”
If we dive deeper into the strengths of the culture here and embrace (and occasionally influence) the changes happening across the digital world then we could create some real magic.
For example, the Guardian brand resonates naturally in the US, but we know it can mean a lot more there. The Guardian has done some very pioneering work with crowdsourcing and data journalism, but making those efforts more systemic like we’ve already done with community and blogging is going to require more people to get involved and to iterate on the ideas more rapidly. We have a very strong advertising business and some solid revenues from several digital products, but the social marketplace has created commercial opportunities we’ve only just begun to demonstrate.
My new job is going to be about those kinds of issues. I won’t be answering all those questions as much as trying to define what the right questions are and creating the space for the answers to happen.
The stuff I’ve been involved with so far like the Open Platform and Activate Summit are going to keep growing, too. We have filled some jobs and opened some others related to the Open Platform. In particular, we’re now hiring a Product Manager for the Content API (apply here). And Activate event producer Robin Hough is building momentum for a big 2011 which will include events in both London and New York City.
Anyhow, lots of exciting stuff for me personally and for the Guardian. And hopefully this will mean more blogging, too.
Andrew Miller, the new chief executive of Guardian Media Group, is planning an internal reorganisation aimed at aligning the company more closely with its flagship newspapers and websites.
The simplification comes as the company divides itself into a “core business” – the Guardian and Observer titles and the guardian.co.uk website network, which includes MediaGuardian.co.uk – from its “investments” – its other media interests, ranging from local radio through to shares in the Auto Trader and Emap joint ventures.
Miller, who was appointed in July, said in an internal memo that he believed that the chief executive of GMG “must be closely involved in our core business” and added that he believed that the newspapers would be his “primary focus” in the job.
He will chair a new company committee that combines the old executive commitee of GMG with the board of Guardian News & Media, the division that publishes the two national newspapers and guardian.co.uk.
However, Miller told GNM journalists that were no imminent plans to sell any of GMG’s investments, despite recent speculation that a flotation of Auto Trader will be announced soon. GMG owns 50.1% of Auto Trader parent company Trader Media Group in a joint venture with the venture capital group Apax Partners.
Speaking at a staff briefing, Miller indicated that operating losses at the Guardian and the Observer would be in line with last year’s deficit, as the downturn in public sector advertising offset cost savings made from a voluntary redundancy programme. A year ago, the newspapers lost £37.8m before exceptional items.
In the 12 months to the end of March, just over 200 staff left GNM, reducing the total workforce to about 1,500.
GMG had about £260m of cash and short term investments at the end of March 2010. Auto Trader, meanwhile, has been valued at £1.5bn, although the used car website is loaded with debt.
Guardian Media Group is owned by the Scott Trust, which exists to safeguard the future of the Guardian in “perpetuity”.
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