Guardian US America

US mission: A cartoon created at the Guardian Open Weekend

The week the small team from the Guardian landed in New York to launch a US operation was the week Occupy Wall Street started.

"Most of the media in the US didn't really understand it, they thought it was a local protest or some sort of scruffy, temporary sit-in," Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of Guardian US, told Journalism.co.uk. 

Guardian journalists, including some of those helping with the launch, spent some of their first weekend talking to protesters and in true Guardian style the US team was liveblogging the protest by the Monday morning.

"You build an audience around something like that really quickly," Gibson said when we caught up with her at the Guardian Open Weekend.

Gibson said the coverage encouraged comments such as "it takes a British newspaper to report America properly". And, in terms of eyeballs on the site, the last seven months has seen the US audience grow from 15 million to nearly 20 million monthly users, a 66 per cent year-on-year increase.

We are taking advantage of the liberating aspects of not having a newspaperJanine Gibson
When Gibson, a former editor of the Guardian website, was handed the role she was tasked with answering the question "what would the Guardian website look like if it were edited in America rather than in London?"

So what does it look like? When a reader approaches the Guardian from the US, they are taken to Guardiannews.com, where they get the same Guardian website but "a different front door".

"It should feel familiar and recognisably the Guardian but just with a different perspective.

"By perspective I don't mean that we are politically different or anything like that, just that we see the world from a different place physically.

"It's not radically different as we have always been an internationalist news organisation, especially digitally, so you still see a big story in Syria, Toulouse or Iran, but we have tried to edit and create journalism that speaks to the Guardian reader who is located in the US."

Guardian US site
The US 'front door' of the Guardian website

Gibson stressed where the news outlet does not intend to tread.

"It doesn't mean competing with the New York Times or USA Today on the domestic news agenda because clearly we are quite seriously outnumbered.

"However, you pick your battles and you find the stories that are distinctively ours, the sorts of things that the Guardian wants to write about, almost as an institution."

The settlers in America see part of their mission as "trying to do new things and innovate".

"We are taking advantage of the liberating aspects of not having a newspaper.

"Some of that is a bit scary, because there isn't a 600 word end point for your work at the end of the day, but it's fantastically challenging and exciting."

She said they are able to consider the best way of covering a story "leaving aside the fact that there's a newspaper somewhere".

Before the US move, a third of the Guardian's web audience was already based in America.

"They were a drive-by audience, they came to us from various sources such as search and recommendations but they weren't necessarily pulling their weight commercially.

If you want to start making a digital news operation for the future then your audience is going to have to band together and do its bitJanine Gibson
"And if you want to start making a digital news operation for the future then your audience is going to have to band together and do its bit."

The US operation, a team 30 staff including around 10 from the UK plus commercial and technical staff, was tasked with the "commercial piece, which is about making sense of the audience financially", as well as growing the audience.

Part of that job was to "let American readers know that they are Guardian readers - part of an international army of Guardian readers," Gibson said.

And there were two ways of doing that: to spend a large amount of money on marketing or "spend much less money on doing some journalism" she said, "which is generally the best way I think to spread a journalistic brand".

And what are the plans for the next few months? "We have targets to hit in terms of growth," Gibson said, expressing a wish to create US versions of the Guardian apps "with enough US-focused content aimed at the US audience".

"I'd like to do an event like this [Guardian Open Weekend event] there." She also said there were  "some quite interesting and innovative brand partnerships" on the cards for this year.

"And we've got to hire some more people because we absolutely exhausted."

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