In an era when the digital space is still causing disruptions to traditional print newspaper models, UK’s The Guardian is seemingly reaping from not following the trend of some of its closest rivals.
Formed with a liberal and progressive ethos, The Guardian has stood around as some of its contemporaries such as The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Financial Times revert to implementing a paywall restricting access to their brand of journalism.
The Guardian instead does not force its readers to pay so as to access the information, insight and opinion that it produces. It follows a rather different model, one that even the paper’s editor-in-chief says “we weren’t sure whether it would work.”
Its model is asking readers to voluntarily contribute and support The Guardian journalism. The reader funding model, according to Katharine Viner, The Guardian‘s editor-in-chief, is working. “It’s inspiring.”
In an article on The Guardian website on November 12, Ms. Viner said response to the paper’s call for voluntary contributions has amassed readers from more than 180 countries.
“To be able to announce today that we have received financial support from more than 1 million readers around the world in the last three years is such a significant step. This model of being funded by our readers through voluntary contributions, subscriptions..is working.” she says.
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Figures provided by the newspaper show a gradual growth in financial support to The Guardian by readers to the paper and listeners to the podcasts it produces.
In 2015, it had 78,000 supporters with more than 70% of them coming from the United Kingdom. In 2016, the number jumped to 165,000 with The Guardian saying that 40,000 of the new supporters came from the US and Australia combined.
By 2017, the number of people financially supporting The Guardian through voluntary means was at 708,000. The one million mark clocked this year also follows The Guardian predicting that now more than 70% of its reader funding support comes from outside the UK.
“This support has meant so much, and helps protect our editorial independence, allowing our journalists the freedom to report and investigate important stories of our time,” said Ms. Viner.
Over the period since 2015, The Guardian has, in collaboration with other major news entities, produced crucial investigative pieces such as The Panama Papers and The Paradise Papers which investigated offshore accounts, and the workings of Facebook and political propagandists Cambridge Analytica.
Ms. Viner said that the motivation behind the reader funding model was propelled by the fact that “we wanted all of our journalism to remain global, free and accessible for our readers – and not restrict it only to those who could afford to pay for it.”
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The Guardian also wanted to allow potential financial supporters to pay in a manner that was suitable to them.
So instead of a paywall that tells readers that they need to part with a fee to access content, The Guardian gives a popup that encourages readers to contribute as they please so as to keep The Guardian journalism free.
A paywall does have its perks, with The New York Times recently stating that the number of subscriptions had reached an all time high of four million. It is also a more regular mode of sustainability as it ensures constant flow of financial support as opposed to The Guardian‘s model which may see a high number of one time supporters.
But The Guardian‘s model seems to be working and even though the editor-in-chief says that the paper could break even by April 2019, she still acknowledged “It has not been easy and we still have a long way to go – we need you to continue to support us financially, and we need more of our readers to take that step if they can.”
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