Select Committee on Communications Minutes of Evidence


Examination of Witnesses (Questions 2480 - 2499)

WEDNESDAY 23 APRIL 2008

Mr Paul Myners

  Q2480  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: In your evidence at paragraph 5.3 you say, "The Guardian exists to create public value, not private gain", and you go on to say, "The Guardian Media Group does not seek profit for the financial benefit of its owners or shareholders, but to sustain journalism that is free from commercial or political interference." Are there circumstances where would you publish The Guardian at a loss against those worthy words?

  Mr Myners: Yes.

  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Really?

  Lord Maxton: But you would sustain it from the rest of the group?

  Q2481  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Other activities?

  Mr Myners: Yes, I think it is good to be profit-seeking, but I think that short-term profit, which is merely a number that is consequent on the approach that accountants have decided to use on that particular day, is far less important for us than our editorial values and our longer term vision, so I would have no qualms about—

  Q2482  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: I understand exactly what lies behind this, and personally I applaud it, but that is by the by. At the same time, you live in a commercial world.

  Mr Myners: Yes.

  Q2483  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: Both the group as a whole and the individual components of the group, from a business point of view you are going to be more comfortable if you are making money rather than losing it, as with any other organisation.

  Mr Myners: Firstly, I am delighted you applaud it, particularly as your colleagues would describe you as a thinker.

  Q2484  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: They are wrong about that.

  Mr Myners: The measure of success for The Guardian is not primarily a financial one.

  Q2485  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: I agree with you?

  Mr Myners: That, I think, is the key factor. I think other newspaper groups would elevate the financial metric far higher in their list of priorities.

  Q2486  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: When Mr Rusbridger decided that he wanted to change the format of The Guardian, which presumably involved a big cost.

  Mr Myners: Yes.

  Q2487  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: Is that something that goes through you?

  Mr Myners: Yes. It was a significant expenditure, and Alan came to the Board with a proposal justifying it because he has to say, "This is what I believe I need to do and this is why this amount of resource, I believe, should be used in this particular way rather than in another way." The total cost of moving to the Berliner format actually was a lot less than has been reported, because we would have needed to re-press in any case. That is to say, our old presses, which were producing the broadsheet format, were coming towards the end of their useful life, so it was opportune that that provided us with the opportunity to look at different formats.

  Q2488  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: But that decision was not seen as an editorial one?

  Mr Myners: I think the decision was an editorial one in that the editor brought it to us, but he basically said, "This a lot of money, I just want you to understand my thinking and, if you have issues about this, let us debate it." As it happened, we did debate it, because these things are never black and white, but there was a very broad agreement that what he was seeking to do by changing the format of the paper was right and I think to date experience has proved him to be correct.

  Q2489  Lord Maxton: Can we just, however, make it quite clear in this high principle that it basically related to The Guardian. You do not run real radio and smooth radio and these other radio stations on the basis that you would make a loss to ensure that you keep a certain type of listener rather than playing music that---. They are there for profit.

  Mr Myners: There are there for profit and value.

  Q2490  Lord Maxton: For profit and value and, therefore, they sustain the rest, they sustain The Guardian?

  Mr Myners: They are a pool of available resource to ensure that we can always deliver to CP Scott's vision.

  Q2491  Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: You run a very successful and large multi-media business. There have been increasing trends to consolidation right across the media industry as a whole. There is no sign of that stopping actually. Could you quickly say what are the benefits and the losses in that process, or is it just something you have to live with?

  Mr Myners: Consolidation has been particularly apparent in television, radio and regional newspapers. In all cases it has been driven by the economics of those particular industries coming under pressure and, therefore, a wish to develop stronger brands and more productive investment, which is a euphemism for cutting cost. It has not been a pressure in the national newspaper area. That pressure will continue, particularly in the area of regional newspapers. I believe we will see more consolidation in the ownership of regional titles, although that may not be immediate, because it is difficult to identify who has the resources and appetite currently to be the driving force behind consolidation. We have seen very significant consolidation in the radio space in the last two years. As far as national titles are concerned, it is a very odd area. If you look, the last four buyers of national titles have been Robert Maxwell, Conrad Black, Richard Desmond and the Barclay brothers.

  Q2492  Chairman: You are not getting into guilt by association, are you?

  Mr Myners: They only listed themselves.

  Q2493  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: The NUJ argues that what consolidation leads to is fewer journalists being employed, consequently fewer journalists having to do more tasks and, as a consequence, poorer journalism. What is your response to that?

  Mr Myners: It has led to fewer people being members of the NUJ.

  Q2494  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: It is true, certainly in the radio sector, is it not, that fewer people are doing more jobs?

  Mr Myners: I think that people are doing more diverse jobs. I think people have to revisit the old way of defining what you do, and the skills required are now to be effective in multiple ways of communicating. So somebody who was previously described as a journalist who sat at a typewriter now podcasts, now speaks to video, now blogs online. It can be described as multi-tasking, but I think it just makes a more challenging and appealing job. Many of these other areas have not been as unionised as journalism, so that has caused a problem for the NUJ. The Guardian, of course, enjoys a very strong and good relationship with our union colleagues.

  Q2495  Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury: You do not accept the argument, in other words: the fact that an individual doing so many more things means that they have less opportunity to get out, talk to people, pursue a journalistic career in the old sense of the word?

  Mr Myners: No, I think that they are still getting out. You could argue that if you are out with a microphone and a camera, you are even more out and less likely to be able to do your work whilst remaining at your desk. The fact is that for some journalists the sort of experience that you report the NUJ as voicing is undoubtedly true, but there are, on the other side, wonderful examples of liberation into a completely new way of working.

  Q2496  Lord Hastings of Scarisbrook: Could you give us a sense of the proportion of the Guardian's income which relates to your expansion in the US online? How important is the online advertising dimension of that?

  Mr Myners: The driving force of our internationalisation through online is to broaden our voice, to communicate with a broader audience. That is the first significant fact. The marginal cost of production digitally is extremely low. The readers find you. You do not have a unit cost of production in the way you do for a newspaper; there is no paper that you have to buy to print on; so the impetuous here is editorial reach. There is a commercial benefit as a consequence of advertising, and we have to pursue those lines, being able to put products and services in front of our readers which they find appealing and attractive.

  Q2497  Lord Hastings of Scarisbrook: Do you differentiate the advertising online according to the markets that it is being used in?

  Mr Myners: Yes.

  Q2498  Lord Hastings of Scarisbrook: Do you have a substantial amount of American advertising?

  Mr Myners: The content that you are taken to through advertising and links will reflect, depending how you got there, the way in which the algorithm works that Google or somebody is using to take you to that site and any advertising that you are presented.

  Q2499  Lord Hastings of Scarisbrook: Following on from that thought, you say in the submission paper that you gave us, one of the points about the BBC being that its decision to accept advertising on BBC.com removes potential revenue from commercial news providers. Do you count yourself in the commercial news provider space in that thought?

  Mr Myners: Yes.


 
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