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COO explains how he's helping reshape newspapers

Martin Veitch | June 8, 2008
Derek Gannon has no truck with the popular notion that the ultimate opportunity for "IT people" stops within the IT function.

The change in focus from marks on paper and mostly local distribution to multi-format global content provider is also reflected in the imminent move to Kings Place. "It's a fantastic opportunity for us," Gannon says. "We didn't just want it to be a change of address. We've been trying to have this integration of digital media and, as well as being one of the greenest buildings in London if not the UK, Kings Place allows us to bring in new ways of working and technology." This will include a dedicated audio-visual studio, pervasive wireless networking and better email and collaboration software, he says.

It should also provide a boost to GNM's already powerful network of websites that are currently undergoing a refresh to extend support for community and multimedia features and improve context-sensitive advertising, in an overhaul that adds what some would call Web 2.0 capabilities.

"The web is fundamental to our future," says Gannon. "The Guardian website has 19 to 19.5 million unique users per month and what Web 2.0 should give us is stickiness. One of the things we measure is that, pre-Web 2.0, you would look at on average 4.5 pages per session and now it's 4.9 pages per session. If you extrapolate it out, that turns into advertising revenue. People spend more time on our site so they're going to see more advertising, and that means you can talk to your commercial director."

Although GNM started off in the last decade with a separate New Media Lab project, it quickly became clear that it needed a more cohesive approach that spanned content and properties. And increasingly, the web is at the center of content and properties. "You have to have all these things in one place," Gannon says. "Development is the future of the company." Nobody today doubts the value of web development but will investment continue in the event of a downturn? After all, the dot-com implosion seven years ago led to massive retrenchment. Gannon is robust in his response: "We've decided we're going to invest in journalism and development because that will be the future. We found that people stopped investing [last time around] and pulled back but we never did."

Dealing with traffic

The general decline in newspaper sales will have to be accounted for by some other commercial entity, he argues, and the web is the most obvious substitute.

Of course, it's no secret that some media firms have gone low in search of audience, after discovering to the nearest hit exactly what generates traffic. Gannon says, sniffily, of one UK media group, "Put Britney on your site and you'll be fine", but insists that The Guardian would never do the same, pointing out that the group has an unusual status in that it is protected by The Scott Trust, which underwrites the financial and editorial independence of GNM. "We just don't even go there it's so well understood," he says.

 

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