Guardian staffs up planned U.S. website as ‘major’ digital ‘transformation’ begins

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The Guardian is in the process of putting together the team that will steer its forthcoming U.S. website, which the U.K. broadsheet's parent company hopes to have up and running by the fall.

Starting next month, four editorial hands, "a few techies and a few promotional people" from The Guardian's London headquarters will start recruiting the New York-based staff, Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger told The Cutline by phone Thursday. The newsroom will be comprised of some combination of 20 to 30 editors, reporters, bloggers and web producers/developers. The site will also have its own publisher, likely an American, said Rusbridger; both the editor-in-chief and chief revenue officer were named earlier this year.

"It will be a gradual build. As revenue comes in, we'll expand." he said, adding that the site could be up and running as early as September.

Rusbridger declined to offer specifics about what the new offering might look like, but said: "I want it to have the feel of an insurgent, disruptive start-up, with the fire hose [of traffic] we could give them that a start-up couldn't possibly provide."

The Guardian has made several past unsuccessful forays in the U.S. media market. But this latest attempt dovetails with a broader digital reorientation that the Guardian Media Group announced on Thursday. Under this latest plan, the paper's print edition will effectively take a back set to the Guardian website and stable of mobile apps.

In prepared remarks to the paper's staff today, Guardian Media Group chief executive Andrew Miller revealed that the company will be "embarking on a major transformation that will see us change from a print-based organization to one that is digital-first in philosophy and practice."

Translation: roughly $40 million worth of resources and investments that had been earmarked for the paper over the next five years will instead be funneled into the digital side of the operation as readers and advertisers continue their migration away from newsprint. The new strategy is designed to target further growth in digital audiences (The Guardian saw a 40 percent such year-over-year increase in 2010), and the company sees the United States as particularly fertile ground for increasing its readership.

Rusbridger, in a separate statement read aloud to his assembled employees, said: "Every newspaper is on a journey into some kind of digital future. That doesn't mean getting out of print, but it does require a greater focus of attention, imagination and resource on the various forms that digital future is likely to take."

He continued: "We will also be changing the printed Monday to Friday newspaper to take account of changing patterns of readership and advertising. Half our readers now read the paper in the evening: they get their breaking news from our website or on mobile."

In practical terms, this means that the Guardian's print edition will become more analysis-driven while its website and mobile apps navigate the 24-hour news-cycle. The print edition will have fewer pages and a smaller selection of stories, but those pieces will go into greater depth. The print content will remain free online.

"We'll make rougher choices about the things we want to delve into," Rusbridger clarified for The Cutline. "The paper needs to be tighter and we have to find ways of simplifying its production."

He stopped short, however, of suggesting that this was the first step in a gradual march toward creating a digital-only publication.

"I can't foretell the future," he said, "but when you crunch the numbers, it doesn't make sense to get rid of print at the moment."

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