Britain’s established media, the Guardian, has brought two big pieces of good news to the media’s digital transformation and social innovation community this year: the Guardian Media Group has announced its first turnaround in years, making it the world’s first mainstream media company to be certified as a B Corp. At the same time, the group’s high-profile environmental target of zero carbon emissions by 2030 will be built up by its global journalists to give environmental reporting a vital place. The company’s aim to balance profit and purpose is clear. The Guardian’s internal correspondent’s guidance turned global warming into a “climate crisis”, with the wording shifting from mild neutral to more urgent and factual.
Twenty years of Innovation with a Digital Transformation
In 1819, when an Imperial police crackdown broke out in Manchester, cavalry stormed into 60,000 people demanding reform of parliament and anti-corn laws, killing 18 people and injuring 700 (known as the Petru massacre). A British journalist exposed the facts of the police brutality and launched the Manchester Guardian two years later. Renamed as the Guardian in 1959, the paper was known for its support for liberalism and was one of the three most senior newspapers in the UK. Recent figures show that the Guardian is in the top three in the world in terms of news reading.
The Family of founders and editors, who inherited the Guardian’s ownership in the early 19th century, set up the Scott Trust Limited, which owns the Guardian, to protect press freedom and values from any business, political parties or even bosses. Its aim was to establish a never-receive, never-sell, never-interfere dividend policy with editorial freedom, ensuring that it would be a “newspaper that will not be bought.” The foundation, which currently has a billion pounds, protects the financial independence of the Guardian, and the Guardian Media Group needs to generate profits to operate sustainably. The paper’s mission is not only to pursue self-interest, but also to enable newspaper staff to dare to investigate, expose injustice and monitor power, thereby protecting the public interest. The Guardian has made a number of headlines around the world in recent years, particularly in helping Snowden uncover U.S. surveillance programs. Subsequently, there were reports on the Panama Papers, the Cambridge Analysis leaked information scandal, and so on, the depth and independence of the report, which brought together a loyal audience in need of high-quality journalism.
The Guardian has not only a long tradition of freedom, but it has continued to innovate for nearly 20 years. It was the first national newspaper in the UK industry to set up online news. It is also the first colour-printed “Berlin layout”, which is narrower and shorter than the tabloids. It was the first newspaper to open up its data on Open Platform, whose API is connected to nearly 20 years of news data. In 2011, “Digital First” became a strategic development priority. In the 2018/19 financial year, the Guardian, who is nearly 200 years old, announced that digital transformation had finally turned a profit, with a profit of 800,000 pounds (about HK$8.1 million). With the “identity fee” accumulated more than 600,000 monthly readers, so that readers pay more than advertisers, and digital revenue is higher than paper, effectively offset the global newspaper revenue contraction, officially declared the transformation of traditional media success.
After the new editor-in-chief took office four years ago, David Pemsel, the new head of the Guardian Group, took over to tackle the thorny issue of a big drop in paper-media revenues. In addition to carrying out voluntary layoffs of 300 people, closing their own printing houses and reducing the size of newspapers, David has redefined his main source of revenue of not relying on advertisers, but by raising money from the public to support in-depth research reports. The president says, “if you’re going to put readers at the core, you need to have a common data set and a common understanding of the reader to understand which parts of the site can be optimized.”
Design Thinking Segmenting Readership
The Guardian’s faces two main challenges: the first is to existing users: how can we identify core readers and build trust in identity and convince them of paid support? The second is to potential users: how can the Guardian shape the unique selling point in the media competition, allowing non-core readers to tap support through different platforms in the future and transform into core users? Using the “funnel strategy” to use the huge number of website traffic as a funnel, the Guardian has managed to narrow down the segment of users and convert some of them into paid supporters, with the key to the switch being the “reader-centric” business principle.
Research that helped the BBC’s digital transformation suggests that 70 percent of news organizations focus on updating messages for users, but that users need more personal education, inspiration and perspectives, but these potential needs have not been met.
The Guardian chose to inject authentic hope into its readers, giving them a deeper insight into reality and connecting people to work together to bring about positive change. In 2018, the Guardian, in a joint venture with the Skoll Foundation, which supports world-class social entrepreneurs, has launched a sponsored column highlighting social innovation stories that have successfully solved serious problems. Other long-term partners include the BBC, the National Public Radio (NPR), which is publicly sponsored by the United States, Sundance Institute, which supports independent artists, and organizations such as Doc Society, which supports independent documentaries and has presented awards to Chinese social activist Ai Weiwei. The Guardian also launches a sustainable corporate sponsorship column dedicated to environmental-related issues and innovation. A Chinese company is also on the list after a new survey revealed how 20 oil majors produced 30 percent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
David has asked Wikipedia founders how Wikipedia can leverage the user community to get donation support, especially on how to optimize user support in a technical and scientific way. David began to study data and value analysis to understand how to make users pay, and the Guardian called on readers under each article to work together on major issues such as press freedom and the climate crisis, and to try to convert subscriptions to non-utilitarian crowdfunding “buying identity values” to persuade sub-users to support their money. The Guardian has set up a 50-person project team for editorial, marketing, advertising and user experience to study website traffic data, coupled with the editorial department’s professional judgment, to analyze what content attracts the most paid users, what content is least likely to unsubscribe readers, and so on.
David’s unique selling point for the Guardian is that it has the advantage of its high-end market, in addition to having a large number of young readers.
In recent years, the Guardian has insisted on free basic content, with a “reader’s income” strategy including subscribers, paid membership and nearly crowdfunding one-time donations in 2016, with 300,000 one-time donations received in the past year. At present, the average monthly independent access users of the site stand at about 150 million, the majority of users are long-term readers, they are not the title party attracted a single click short traffic.
The Guardian also invests in high-tech, strengthens cross-sectoral co-operation and strictly enforces advertising censorship, which used to be at the heart of the Guardian, but has surpassed advertising revenue in 2019. And with more than 1 million users paying to support the Guardian, it took the Wall Street Journal 11 years, the New York Times and the Washington Post four years to reach the million-dollar reach compared to several other major international newspapers. The Guardian expects “regular or one-time payments or subscriptions” of up to 2 million people by 2022.
Even in the face of a big drop in revenue from traditional media, the Guardian’s enthusiasm for supporting public participation in social issues has been undiminished, and the Guardian.org has been set up as an independent charity to support investigative reporting, climate crises, and so on, so that the public can gain insight and participate. With its media presence, the charity has received support from several world-class foundations, including the Gates Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. The Guardian was certified by The Common Interest Enterprise with a score of 86.2, and the system was certified with a score of 200 and a score of more than 80. In its announcement, the Guardian said it was committed to “becoming a mission-oriented business in all areas of operations, and the certification of mutual benefits is one of the things that must be done”. B Corp certification helps to lock in the company’s mission, and even the future management will continue to uphold the company’s mission.
Finally, The Group’s President David Pemsel’s next stop will be to become CEO of the English Premier League in 2020, with his understanding of the common benefits, digitalization and globalization. Twenty clubs will join as shareholders of the Premier League company under the leadership of the new president. Will it successfully embark on the path of global common benefit, real impact on the world? If there are British bookmakers to open an account for this, it would be the day where B Corps or companies aimed at creating shared value to use business as a force for good become mainstream.