10 February 2010

Alan Rusbridger talks of his vision of the 'mutual newspaper'

Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger

Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger offered a sharp contrast to the doom and gloom regularly seen in the newspaper industry when he addressed an audience of journalism students at the University of Sheffield.

Mr Rusbridger, guest lecturer during an innovative “convergence week” organised by the Department of Journalism Studies, instead spoke of an “optimistic, inspiring, motivating” vision of what journalism could become.

Despite a long-term and seemingly inexorable decline in newspaper circulations, Mr Rusbridger pointed to the fact that in December 2009 Guardian.co.uk attracted 37 million unique users – two thirds of them from abroad – and added that C.P. Scott, the newspaper’s former editor and owner, would be proud of such global reach.

In a determinedly upbeat message Mr Rusbridger outlined a vision of what he called “the mutual newspaper” which he described as a “radical change in the idea of what a newspaper is”.

Instead of newspapers seeing themselves as founts of unquestionable authority he argued that journalists should instead join readers with a mutual interest in creating content.

Quoting new media guru Jeff Jarvis – “Do what you do best and link to the rest” – he said journalists should not be afraid of redirecting readers to other places of interest on the web.

“And you can’t do that from behind a pay wall,” he added in a pointed reference to plans by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.

He also used examples such as the Trafigura case, an investigation into how banks avoided tax and the scandal over MPs’ expenses to illustrate how collaboration between journalists and the public could break major stories.

He said traditional journalists needed qualities such as the ability to:

  • Report

  • Analyse

  • Comment

  • Campaign

  • Verify

  • Defend

These were still needed, he said, but today’s reporters also need to:
  • Curate

  • Link

  • Aggregate

  • Amplify and

  • Moderate

“Convergence Week” involves students from separately badged MA courses – Print, Broadcast, Magazines and Web – coming together to study key competencies for multi-media reporting.