March 28th, on a rainy Tuesday at the 38th floor of the Gherkin in London, Press Gazette hosted their Media-100 invite-only breakfast meeting with The CEO of The Guardian, Anna Bateson. Our CIO Mark van de Kamp and our CMO, Kim Svendsen both attended, and here are some of the highlights of the conversation Anna Bateson had with Press Gazette Editor-in-Chief, Dominic Ponsford.
Their conversation started by discussing the online attention recession and the online ad recession. While The Guardian has experienced headwinds in advertising, with UK advertisers being cautious about budgets, their audience has grown significantly, with a huge spike in the past year. This has been partly due to the pandemic, as people had more time to spend consuming news. However, as things start to normalize, the news is settling in with a broader spectrum of readers.
The revenue mix for The Guardian is membership-driven and more and more driven by donations, which allows readers to support journalism they think is important. One example of this is their coverage of environmental topics, which has no direct commercial return, but the "green audience" is willing to pledge their support. Another example is Guardian's decision to ban advertising for fossil fuel companies, which has led to even more pledges and supporters opting in on paying for their journalism.
Bateson also delved into how the emergence of AI will affect the news industry. She expressed concerns about protecting their intellectual property and navigating the danger of misinformation. However, she also sees opportunities in using AI for e.g. translation into other markets, but it's important to ensure that the editorial intent is correct in the translated version, which can't be done 100% automatically.
The Guardian's relationship with big tech platforms such as Google and Facebook was also discussed, with Bateson noting that Australia seems to have cracked it, and tech giants are beginning to share revenue with publishers. However, the UK market is different, and regulatory change is on the horizon, making it difficult to predict how it will pan out.
One of the most intriguing questions was about which mediums younger people will go to for news. Bateson stated that understanding the shifts in consumption is crucial, and publishers must be able to experiment with new formats and channels easily. She also noted that publishers can learn from YouTube and Google, particularly in terms of moving quickly, fast iterations, and listening to users.
However, Bateson also cautioned that publishers should not get too caught up in the lure of new platforms such as TikTok and forget about the importance of community journalism and important global news topics that don’t generate traffic on these platforms.
On the question of whether there is a conflict between investing in journalism versus direct revenue like advertising, Bateson stressed that editorial ambition can align with revenue ambition, but the key is shared objectives. Advertising has to be beautiful or useful, and publishers need to allow advertisers to tell stories.
Finally, Bateson discussed her concerns about technology challenges and recent cyber attacks on The Guardian's IT systems. She emphasized the importance of resilience and security, both in terms of technology and people and culture. Disrupting the way people work to make the tech stack safer may be necessary to move them in the right direction.
In conclusion, the interview with Anna Bateson sheds light on the challenges and opportunities facing the news industry, particularly in the digital age. It's clear that publishers must be able to adapt to the changing landscape, experiment with new formats and channels, and listen to their readers and advertisers. The Guardian's success in recent years is a testament to its ability to do just that, and it will be fascinating to see how the industry evolves in the years to come.