Going global in a digital world

In recent years, media consumption has changed beyond recognition: more and more people are accessing content from global sources, using multiple platforms and sharing volumes of self-produced content. The internet has broken down the geographic boundaries that news organisations have historically acted within, dramatically shrinking the world and allowing content to travel around the globe at high speed. News is no longer a national game — media organisations are competing for audiences’ attention with national counterparts and global players.

The ability to adapt and innovate has been a crucial feature of the organisations that are not just surviving but thriving in this rapidly-changing landscape, and it is one of the core reasons for the Guardian’s success. We have transformed our business from a British newspaper to a global media organisation, leading the way by putting digital at the heart of everything we do, and following our readers across the platforms and devices on which they choose to consume their media. This is allowing us to continue to provide the innovative journalism that we are known for — but with added global reach.

Our award-winning journalism gives us a huge advantage but we realise that this isn’t enough to succeed. Tapping into themes of global relevance and getting under the skin of local issues has also been essential to growing our audience, regardless of geographical location. Investigative journalism has been a cornerstone of the Guardian for the past 200 years and, in the last five, we’ve broken a number of incredible stories, from phone-hacking to WikiLeaks, and most recently the NSA and GCHQ revelations which set news agendas across the globe.

Open journalism has been a guiding principle behind our global expansion. This is a model of news-gathering that taps into the web’s social ecosystem. It reflects the way people behave, brings them into the heart of the editorial experience, and ultimately drives trust and loyalty amongst readers. It has been crucial in making international audiences feel a connection with, and ownership of, the news they’re consuming. It is also the way the web works — being open and social is key to how we reach many of our readers.

The digital-only nature of our newsrooms in New York and Sydney also means that our teams aren’t constrained by the legacy of print journalism. Increasingly they’re telling stories in new ways and thinking differently about how, what and when they report. This approach is a crucial part of enabling us to shape and define what the Guardian means in the different markets in which we operate. Our readers have responded enthusiastically: Australian traffic routinely stands at almost six million unique monthly browsers, while audiences in the US account for over a quarter of our global traffic.

Adopting a digital-first strategy has helped drive continuous innovation and improvement of our editorial content. It has given us the chance to develop new, immersive ways of storytelling. Doing so has required the development of new technologies, like our recently launched new Guardian app or our award-winning interactive features, to improve how our content is delivered to readers and to ensure that our editorial teams have the best tools to bring their stories to life.

We’ve started to reap the benefits of this approach. We’ve continued to grow our global audience year-on-year — two thirds of our readers now come from outside the UK. We are the third largest English-language newspaper website in the world, and in March we reached the milestone of 100 million unique monthly browsers for the first time. We’re seeing huge increases in our digital revenues as a result, this financial year we reported a 24% rise to just short of £70 million.

This commercial success is vital in enabling us to keep doing what we’re passionate about — providing brilliant, era-defining journalism for readers across the world. However, we’re aware that big challenges remain. The ever-increasing shift to news consumption on the move, be it through smartphone or tablet, is causing tremors throughout the industry as publishers and advertisers alike wrestle with smaller screens, increased appetites for snack-able, shareable content, and varying consumption needs based on what time of the day media is being consumed and on what device.

Getting video content right is also something that needs focus and investment. Video is no longer a bolt-on to great journalism — it’s a crucial medium for engaging younger audiences and for driving engagement and share-ability on the global media stage. And as wearable technology becomes a reality, there will be ever more competition for the best and most innovative ways to consume news.

Those that will win will be the organisations that embrace change and move quickly — that’s why we invest heavily in our own digital development team and why we’re putting boots on the ground on the West Coast of the US, to deepen and strengthen our relationships with the leading edge technology companies who will shape the future of news.

Ultimately, leading an organisation with a tremendous history and heritage through a period of change is all about being brave. It’s about not being afraid to take a risk, such as when we moved all our online properties to one global domain — theguardian.com — last year. It’s about not standing still, but embracing opportunities for growth, as we have done with our New York and Sydney offices; and, it’s about staying true to where we’ve come from, thus ensuring that everything we do, across all parts of our business, helps to safeguard our ground-breaking journalism for generations to come.