The Guardian is going down the tubes – how can such a great brand be so unsuccessful?

The deckchairs on the Titanic, aka Guardian Media Group, were reshuffled again today with managing director Tim Brooks, in years gone by one of the founders of Media Week, being made redundant.

This is presumably part of new CEO Andrew Miller’s policy of cutting back GMG’s expansionary ambitions, which at one time took in commercial radio and a car freesheet and magazine empire and concentrating on his job description – funding the loss-making newspaper through the Scott Trust, the body set up a century ago to fund the free trade liberal newspaper the Manchester Guardian.

Brooks’ departure doesn’t have very much to do with the fundamentals which are: is Miller just managing a process of decline which will see the Guardian disappear in about ten years or so or is there something within the Guardian that might be rescued and even turned into a viable media business?

And the most pressing item on Miller’s agenda (he was the finance director under former CEO Carolyn McCall) is whether or not he should ditch long-time editor Alan Rusbridger.

In journalistic terms Rusbridger has been a hero with an endless appetite for fighting good liberal causes such as the disgraceful ‘rendition’ of terrorist suspects under the last Labour government (which did for then foreign secretary David Miliband’s chances of becoming Labour leader) and the phone-hacking activities of Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World (and the rest of the tabloid press it will shortly emerge, including some ex-Mirror hacks including a certain celebrity interviewer).

But in sales terms the Guardian has been a disaster despite there being a huge number of liberally-inclined educated people in the UK (a majority actually) who habitually vote for either the Labour Party or the Liberal Democrats.

Somehow or other the Guardian has failed to engage them, at least to the point of shelling out a quid a day to buy it.

Then there’s its vast website, which used to be known as Guardian Unlimited. This has about twenty million users a month (50 times the paper’s circulation) but the Guardian still can’t work out how to make money from them.

But any idiot can look at the job ads in the back of Media Guardian on Mondays and see that the hugely loss-making paper is hiring people for non-jobs that even the most profligate local authority would baulk at.

Is Andrew Miller up to the task of re-inventing the Guardian and its website as the vibrant liberal media entity it should be?

Frankly you have to doubt it. Editor Rusbridger might very well be part of the problem but he’s a much bigger figure than Miller is ever likely to be.

They need to do something fundamental though and getting rid of Tim Brooks certainly isn’t it.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.

One comment

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    What a strange blog. When I last looked Guardian was, if anything, gaining market share in a world in which all newspapers are sliding away. Same problems for the Guardian as for every other newspaper – but it’s declining at about the same rate as everyone else. Online, its traffic is actually double what you say – nearer 40m, not 20m. And, if it’s not yet earning enough from that, well it’s hardly alone.