Ludwigshöhe, GERMANY – During the global pandemic, the Guardian relied on strategies already in place and adopted new ones to keep readers interested and provide the best news coverage possible, its editor said Tuesday.
Katherine Viner, who is editor-in-chief of the UK-based publication, shared some of the Guardian‘s success stories at the International Symposium on Online Journalism, a weeklong digital conference attracting more than 6,000 journalists.
Viner spoke to Emilio Garcia-Ruiz, editor-in-chief of the San Francisco Chronicle, about the Guardian’s success strategy during 2020 and 2021.
The Guardian, which will be celebrating its 200th anniversary next week, has gone through financial hardships before, Viner told Garcia-Ruiz.
Its liberal positioning has made the paper a “paper of the left,” she said, and sometimes controversial.
During difficult times, faith in one’s own skills and good quality are especially important, said Viner.
“People can’t mimic reporting, good old-fashioned reporting,” she said, adding that it is important to be meaningful and to consider “who your audience is and what kind of relationship you want with them.”
When asked about recent challenges the Guardian has been facing, Viner said some people always had to be in the office for the paper to be printed and that these employees were scared. The recent death of Kakoli Bhattacharya, a colleague in India who died from covid-19 at the age of only 51, also came as a shock, she said.
In order for the covid deaths to appear as more than just numbers, the Guardian published comprehensive profiles of victims, according to Viner.
Garcia-Ruiz predicted that it will be years until we know how many people were really affected by this pandemic because so many statistics are incomplete.
Viner said it is impressive “how resilient and resourceful journalists have proven themselves to be.”
Even as more and more people are getting vaccinated and some are hopeful that the pandemic will soon come to an end, Viner said she does not “see calm coming at all.”
There will still be a lot to do for journalists in the future, according to Viner.
“The most important role of any news organization is reporting,” Viner said. To aspiring reporters, Viner advised writing what they know and what is unique to them. She also said they should gain work experience, however small.
Another difficulty for the Guardian and for all journalists, Viner said, was the election of Donald Trump as president of the U.S. in 2016.
“Trump put journalists’ lives in danger,“ she said.
Shortly after his inauguration, many international news organizations were busy fact-checking Trump’s speeches, Viner said, but she wanted the Guardian to take a look at what he was actually doing.
Both Trump and the current pandemic harmed people, including journalists, according to Viner, yet they both helped news organizations grow by providing news.
Talking about the effects of social media, Viner and Garcia-Ruiz come to the conclusion that platforms like Instagram and Twitter affect how people see politics and that Trump would not have been as successful without them.
Social media also helps the spread of misinformation, said Viner.
When asked about opposing columns in newspapers where a certain topic is discussed and one side of the argument does not necessarily use facts to support their opinion, Viner said that the Guardian does not print columns like that.
The Guardian values reporting the truth, she said, and will not give a voice to “denialists.”
The Guardian in Australia – which Viner launched in 2013 – is completely digital and largely focused on the environment. Climate change can be a toxic subject to write about, Viner said.
Garcia-Ruiz and Viner agreed that while journalism is evolving, printed newspapers and magazines are not going away. Viner regards print and digital journalism as equal platforms.
While there are some plans for the Guardian to grow in the next year, especially in the U.S., Australia and London, where things are going well, there will be no dramatic changes during the pandemic.
After the pandemic, the Guardian will likely end up with “some sort of hybrid model” where some people continue working remotely while others come into the office, Viner said, but “things might change again” and the future remains uncertain.
In 2016, the newspaper introduced a contribution stategy for online articles, so that these are free to read for everyone and it is voluntary to give money.
When people choose to give money to the Guardian, Viner said, they are not donating but contributing, because the paper is not a charity. But Viner also pointed out that the strategy that works for the Guardian might not work for other news organizations that must focus more on earning profits.
Still, the Guardian‘s contribution-optional stategy helps people from all over the world access journalism.
Annalena Stache is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.