Alan Rusbridger: 'We won't turn our back on the digital world by putting up a paywall'
Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger said tonight that the openness of the web had created a new style of journalism that via links, multiple sources and collaborations with readers meant journalists can tell a story more effectively than ever before.
Giving the Hugh Cudlipp lecture at the London College of Communication, he likened the paywall to cutting newspapers off from the digital world and claimed that although 2009 had been disappointing for digital ad revenues it would be premature to base future predictions on what happened during a deep recession.
Rusbridger said that the Guardian had earned £25 million in digital ad revenue last year and would earn only "a fraction of that from a paywall." He said that although he admired Rupert Murdoch as a "brave and radical owner of the Times" the paywall model was "not right for us now".
He added: "If you erect a universal pay wall around your content then it follows you are turning away from a world of openly shared content. Again, there may be sound business reasons for doing this, but editorially it is about the most fundamental statement anyone could make about how newspapers see themselves in relation to the newly-shaped world."
Rusbridger argued that readers liked links and multiple sources and that collaborative stories were "likely to get to the truth faster".
He said stories such as the Guardian's investigations into the death of Ian Tomlinson during the G20 demonstrations in London, Trafigura and Tony Blair's tax affairs had all combined traditional reporting with collaborations with outside sources on the web.
Rusbridger said the growth of digital audiences should be a "beacon of hope for newspapers" and celebrated. He predicted that more and more institutions, like museums, colleges and government departments would be producing their own digital material.
"What a chance for newspapers," he said. "If we turn our back on all this then we will be sleepwalking into oblivion." There were a couple of lighthearted moments during the evening. At one point technical gremlins meant the message: "You are now running on a reserve battery power" flashed up on the screen behind Rusbridger. Also, Lady Cudlipp thanked Rusbridger after his speech for introducing the Berliner-sized Guardian because it perfectly fitted the bottom of her parrot's cage. That's something guardian.co.uk can never do.
Pic: Jon Slattery
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