LONDON >> The Guardian, the British newspaper that won a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of national security leaks in the United States but whose aggressive international expansion has brought heavy losses, switched to a tabloid print format today as part of efforts to cut costs.
The newspaper’s shift comes with the British journalism industry in a state of flux, as declining advertising revenues have forced various storied publications to make major changes, from firing hundreds of journalists to shutting down print operations entirely. The challenges mirror many of the difficulties faced by legacy publications the world over as they attempt to transition to more digitally savvy operations.
The Guardian had long been a standard-bearer in Britain for that shift. The left-wing publication focused on courting vast numbers of readers around the world, and it hired dozens of reporters in the United States and Australia in particular. It has ardently refused to set up a paywall — the preferred strategy of many of its rivals, from The Times of London to The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times — opting instead to ask its readers for donations, even setting up a nonprofit arm to help fund its journalism.
For a while, that strategy appeared to bear fruit. The Guardian shared a Pulitzer Prize with The Washington Post in 2014 for coverage of documents leaked by Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency contractor. That a British newspaper won a prestigious award that had largely been the domain of U.S. publications illustrated the scale of its ambition.
The recognition that came with the scoop — as well as a string of high-profile stories in preceding years related to illegal phone hacking and the WikiLeaks trove of diplomatic cables — gave The Guardian outsize international influence, far beyond what is typically the case for a newspaper with an average weekday print run of around 146,000.
But heavy losses forced an about-face of sorts. The Guardian lost 44.7 million pounds, or around $61 million, in the year ending April 2017, following losses of 68.7 million pounds the year before. The investment fund that had helped the paper deal with such losses was being drained at an alarming rate.
The shift to a tabloid print size is part of several moves, from cutting around 300 jobs to selling a stake in a trade publication group, to curb those losses. The Guardian’s style of journalism will not change, but the new format allows it to be printed by a wider array of presses, helping it cut costs. Other British newspapers, including The Times of London and The Independent, have moved from broadsheet to tabloid formats for similar reasons.
“Our move to tabloid format is a big step towards making The Guardian financially sustainable and ensuring we can continue to invest in agenda-setting journalism for generations to come,” Katharine Viner, editor-in-chief of Guardian News and Media, said in a statement Sunday.
David Pemsel, chief executive of Guardian Media Group, declined Monday to specify how much could be saved by the shift to a more compact format, but said the figure was in the millions, adding that “to the bottom line, it’s significant.”
By April, The Guardian is expected to have reduced its operating losses to 25 million pounds, with the goal of breaking even in 2018-19.
“We’re in the process of finding a new business model,” Viner said Monday. “I wouldn’t like to say we’ve got there yet, but I think we’re on the way.”
The Guardian began in 1821 as a newspaper based in the northern English city of Manchester, but it moved its headquarters to London in the 1960s. It carved out a role as a left-of-center voice in Britain’s hypercompetitive newspaper market. In 2011, it accelerated its expansion overseas, hiring more than 50 journalists in the United States and Australia in about a dozen bureaus.
Along the way, it abandoned its traditional broadsheet format in 2005, opting for a design known as the Berliner. The move cost 80 million pounds, because The Guardian was the only British newspaper to print in that size and it had to construct new printing sites in London and Manchester with specially commissioned printing presses.
Now, it will move to a tabloid format and will be published on printing presses owned by Trinity Mirror, the British publishing company that owns The Daily Mirror, a traditional left-wing tabloid. The Guardian has not yet decided what it will do with the printing presses and land in London and Manchester.
In a teaser video Friday, the newspaper said the new design was intended to offer a “space for new voices” and “space for ideas.”
The shift to a more compact format is a significant change for the publication, which has said in the past that the tabloid format was “not in the tradition of the Guardian.”
Still, such a change is “less seismic” now compared to previous years, because so much consumption of news is done online, said Charlie Beckett, a professor of media and communications at the London School of Economics.
Still, Beckett said, the new format had managed to reflect the publication’s mixture of content, and was in keeping with the style and design of its website, all while being a little easier to shove into bags. “This works as something for people’s portable, time-poor lives,” Beckett said. “I think it’s going to fit in with people’s behavior, their reading habits, in a way that doesn’t ask them to do anything too difficult.”
David Hillman, who worked on a redesign of the paper in 1988, was less impressed, admitting that he had struggled to spot it at a newspaper stand.
“It’s very neat, very gray, and rather kind of middle-aged,” Hillman said. “Visually, this is a step backward.”
Hillman quickly added, however, that he had himself been “crucified” during a previous redesign, and conceded that any such shift would be a difficult task for a publication as recognizable as The Guardian.
“You have to understand whatever you do, it’s going to be criticized,” he said. “Basically, people don’t like change.”