Phone-hacking scoopster Nick Davies may join Guardian’s planned U.S. operation

When not tirelessly chronicling the ongoing British phone-hacking saga, The Guardian has been lining up journalists to staff the U.S.-based website that the U.K. broadsheet plans to have up and running sometime this fall.

One of the marquee recruits to that operation may be Nick Davies, the dogged Guardian investigative reporter who's blown the lid off some of the biggest stories to emerge from the scandal. The phone-hacking controversy continues to engulf News Corporation as the company heads into its second-quarter earnings report Wednesday afternoon.

Davies has been in the United States for more than a week on a reporting trip and press tour that's produced a series of interviews about his role in exposing phone-hacking and other journalistic malfeasance within News Corp.'s British newspaper division. Davies has yet to publish any items with U.S. datelines--but the broader goal of his American visit, he has said, is to probe potential phone-hack fallout in the states.

Davies, who was in New York through last Friday and is now on the ground in Los Angeles, is scheduled to fly back to London after this week. But depending on how things go, he may be back sooner than embattled News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch would like.

"The Guardian have asked me to join a group of journalists who they are sending from London to the U.S. to increase our coverage of U.S. stories," Davies told The Cutline. "So, apart from looking at the hacking story here, the other purpose of the trip is to make decisions about exactly where I would be based if I were to come here. I'm still exploring that, too."

Guardian editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger has been out of the office and could not be reached for comment. But it goes without saying that Davies would be a valuable addition to the news operation Rusbridger hopes will expand the Guardian's footprint in the United States. The paper has built up a strong American online readership over the past several years, most recently thanks to high-profile exclusives from Davies such as the game-changing revelation that journalists at News Corp's now defunct Sunday tabloid, News of the World, allegedly snooped around the voicemails of a murdered 13-year-old girl.

If Davies is able to carve out an American phone-hacking beat, that would undoubtedly help cement the Guardian's position as a competitor in the U.S. news market. Among the scoops likely to be on Davies' radar: confirmation on whether News of the World's phone-fishing expeditions extended to the victims of the 9/11 terrorist attacks--a claim that has so far only surfaced in a thinly sourced British tabloid report.

"My job here would be to do investigations," he said.

The Guardian's planned U.S. site coincides with a practical shift in its dead-tree edition. The print edition of the paper will soon evolve into a more analysis-driven product and breaking news will be steered into the Guardian website. The company's planning to plough $40 million into the paper's digital operations, even as layoffs now loom on the print side.

The U.S. newsroom is expected to be a combination of 20 to 30 editors, reporters, bloggers and web producers/developers, most based in New York. The Guardian has already named an editor-in-chief and chief revenue officer to the project. The site will also have its own (most likely American) publisher.

"It will be a gradual build," Rusbridger told The Cutline back in June. "As revenue comes in, we'll expand."

Davies didn't discuss any timeline for when he might decide on joining The Guardian's U.S. team. Nor did a News Corp. spokesman care to comment on how the company's American executives are reacting to the prospect of a long-term stateside Davies investigation into its activities.