Guardian looks for novel entry points into US market
The British publisher is making another push into America, writes Tanzina Vega.
Newshounds have no shortage of resources, particularly on the web. And whether you define news as the latest updates on the Kardashians or the conflict in Syria, enough digital sources abound to satisfy every taste and to feed the incessant demands of social media. So how does a 192-year-old news organisation get people to pay attention to its online edition?
At least that's the plan for a new campaign to promote the venerable British newspaper The Guardian, which starts this week. The campaign hinges on controversial US topics that include women in the military, internet privacy, gun control and the use of condoms in the adult film industry.
Images created by graphic artist Noma Bar are meant to show both sides of each issue, with contents that change depending on your point of view. The images are meant to be shown side by side on footpath billboards in selected cities around the US and online.
To illustrate the topic of women in the military, for example, an image shows an outline of two navy blue tanks and a red helicopter encased in a white dome. "Military Liability", the headline says, above these words: "Women aren't as physically strong as men. We need our best soldiers on the front line."
When the image is flipped on its head, however, the red helicopter becomes red lips; the blue tanks, eyes; and the dome, the outline of a face. "Military Equality", the headline now says. "It takes more than brute strength to win today's wars. We all have the right to fight for our country."
For the ads depicting internet privacy, one image shows a person at a desk with an open laptop and the headline "Keep Out of My Stuff" - but when flipped, the man at the desk turns into a masked face with the headline "Keep Out the Terrorists".
The ads are meant to evoke a response from people who choose to take a side on the issues. "For us it's about telling the story through the editorial lens," says Jennifer Lindenauer, director of marketing and communications at Guardian US, in an interview at the publication's New York office.
"When you look at the debate in this country, at the core of it tends to be the government in our lives versus personal freedoms," said Lindenauer. "It's culture, it's news, it's technology. It allowed us to show the multifaceted areas of coverage that we provide for our readers."
Passers-by who see the footpath billboards will be asked to take a photograph of the ad that represents their point of view and upload the photo to Twitter or Instagram using the hashtag VoiceYourView. A website will collect the votes as they come in and will feature links to The Guardian's coverage of those issues.
Despite editorial successes - most notably its coverage of the phone hacking scandal that led to the closure of Rupert Murdoch's News of the World - The Guardian has had a rocky, albeit short, history in the US. In 2009, it laid off a handful of editors and reporters who had been hired to work on a US-focused website. In 2011, it opened offices in New York and has since hired notable journalists it hopes will attract American readers, including Naomi Wolf.
"Not very many people other than the news cognoscenti know about The Guardian," said Alan Mutter, a lecturer for the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former newspaper editor. He added that The Guardian is "very much a new, marginal entrant into an already very busy, very fragmented US media market".
Instead of focusing on advertising, Mutter said, the company should focus on another tried-and-true technique: reporting.
"I would be looking for really big stories, gobsmacking stories that get people to tune in and get people to share that content," he said. "The kind of people they want to attract as customers are not going to stop and do a billboard poll."
The Guardian's website is well behind The Daily Mail, a British publication that has surged ahead in the past few years with headlines laden with celebrity gossip.
According to data from ComScore, the Mail has the largest online newspaper audience in the world, with 54.2 million unique visitors in January 2013.
The Guardian had the fourth-largest international audience that month, with 41.2 million unique visitors. Less than a third (29.7 per cent) of its web traffic comes from readers in the US, while the Mail counts 36.5 per cent of its audience from American readers.
New York Times