The Guardian opened its U.S.-based digital operation nearly two years ago, but the British newspaper's American arm has received the most attention for its reporting on the National Security Agency and its surveillance programs. Adweek recently caught up with Janine Gibson, editor in chief of The Guardian U.S., to discuss the site's evolution and its reporting on the ongoing story of whistleblower Edward Snowden.
Adweek: How would you say the U.S. site has changed in the past two years?
Gibson: When we started, we were just a page. We are, I think, really establishing ourselves as a U.S. news site with an international perspective. I think when we first arrived the question was, "How are you going to distinguish yourself in the U.S. market?" And I talked a lot about The Guardian's independence, the fact that we're a different kind of news organization, that we are distinguished by our attitude and our approach and the way we do journalism. And I think that was hard for people to imagine in the abstract. But two years on, you can absolutely see why we're different and why there was, if not a need, then a gap.
Have there been any challenges or false starts along the way?
At the beginning I thought we were doing too much live news. Because we had had enormous success with live coverage in the U.K., when we got here I was a bit worried that it wouldn't have the impact. But actually I think the thing about live coverage is it's so compelling—and that, in the end, people just really want it. And I know some people don't like it, especially for rapidly unfolding news events. But I think for a whole generation of news readers that, as an industry, we've been concerned that we're losing, when you look at the demographics of print circulation and so on, live coverage is absolutely compelling to them and they are very sophisticated about how they read it.
What are other areas you're hoping to branch out into or expand?
The areas that we're looking at for the next 12 months are film, music, culture, technology, environment and sustainability—it's a real kind of core thing for The Guardian. And then building further around the areas that we're already very strong on, which is issue-led news.
Can you run me through what your average day at The Guardian looks like?
I couldn't even begin to describe an average day at the moment. And if I did tell you what an average day from the last [several] weeks looked like, you would not believe me because it's closer to something like The Bourne Identity than to His Girl Friday (laughs). At the moment, though, days involve a lot of transatlantic communications because it's a story we've been running from here but is being managed across lots of time zones. And communications are very difficult. We're having to work very securely. And one of the great challenges of this story is that it's a stamina game. We're not a huge team here. The Guardian is strong and deep and [has] resources all around the world, and we're able to pull in help, but the people who are really immersed in this have been on it for a while now—and it's complex and technical material that requires a lot of work.
Why do you think The Guardian was the news organization to blow this story open in such a big way?
I genuinely think that there is a series of unique things that came together. Glenn [Greenwald] is the magnet in the sense that he cares passionately about this subject and has a sort of forensic mind. So he's the perfect person for someone with Edward Snowden's beliefs and expertise to want to talk to. And there's an attitudinal thing. The Guardian has now established itself as somewhere that deals with big leaks of complex information in a responsible, thorough, well-thought-through, incredibly disciplined and public-interest-led way.
Is the publication of these stories a turning point?
I think these stories would be a turning point for any news organization in the world, to be honest. This has been a huge story and continues to be. And clearly it's attracting an enormous audience both in the U.S. and globally. What we're seeing is the sort of underlying growth aside from the spikes around when we publish these stories, which is really pleasing. I'm certainly hearing from readers who are writing to us and emailing and taking the time to say how much they appreciate the reporting that we're doing on this story, but also, really gratifyingly, how they're finding things all around the site that really speak to them. So that's great. As an inducement to sample for new readers, it's a good one because it's actually really core to who we are in lots of ways. So it's not misleading.
Have you been surprised by the reaction Glenn Greenwald has received or the press attention/stories that have been written about him?
It has surprised me that journalists would be keen to describe someone doing I think quite brave and important work as not journalistic. I'm surprised by that. I was really taken aback by it. We come from the U.K. newspaper background, where news organizations jab at each other all the time and it's perfectly territorial and in some cases vicious. But in general when it's the establishment vs. the media, you stand by the media.