I believe the Guardian is facing a period in which its long term future is to be decided. Because it is owned by a trust it doesn’t have quite the same commercial imperatives as other UK newspapers. However, the trust does not have bottomless pockets. The cover price of the paper was recently increased as a “response to an ‘increasingly challenging market’” [*1]
Fifteen years ago, and for decades before that, I bought the Guardian six days a week (at today’s prices that’s £12.90 a week, £670.80 a year † (£826.80 including the Observer on Sundays which I didn’t buy but do read today on the Guardian‘s site)). Today, I pay £49 a year to read the Guardian online as I feel that paying nothing is dishonest as I do derive some benefit from the site. But I am disinclined to pay more until the service is a lot better. I occasionally get the paper version when I am in Waitrose (they give it away free if you spend more than £5). There must be many who pay no more than I do, or nothing at all.
Even though the Guardian site is visually way ahead of all other remotely comparable sites, it is still unappealing actually to read anything on it, either on my pc or my (large) phone. (And, of course, the paper version is visually way ahead of its equivalents, too.) This is presumably an irremediable problem at the moment. But there are plenty of other things which the Guardian should do:
1 I know that the Guardian is seeking to expand into other English speaking territories, such as the US and Australia, but UK readers shouldn’t have to wade through parochial news items from these countries of little interest or relevance to them. Given that there are entirely separate Australian and US version of the website, in addition to the UK one, I wonder why this stuff appears on the UK site at all.
It would appear that this change has happened since Ms Katherine Viner took over editorship.
2 International news is biased towards the US. The Guardian is letting its commercial need to build circulation in the US overrule a duty to present the news in an unbiased way.
3 The emphasis on sport and on trivia generally, while nothing special in the Guardian’s case, is deplorable because the resources producing this content cannot be used to produce more worthwhile content, and because it degrades the ethos of the site generally. The failure to have main menu items for the arts and for science * is utterly deplorable [see note 7 july 17 below]. In this regard, the Guardian has lurched noticeably downhill over the years. (In the olden days, there was a printed pull out supplement on science and technology every Thursday. Now we just get a “tech” menu item which links largely to items about computing and video games.)
4 If there is any arts converge it is hidden away in the culture section. At the time of writing, there are 32 items listed here. These include pieces on Leicester city—a football club; “Russell T Davies adds lesbian kiss to A Midsummer Night’s Dream”—we can see the level that that one is on; pop entertainers, the necklaces someone wore in a tv series, Lenny Henry on his music career [sic], marijuana, and so on. There are maybe two pieces than one could classify as having something to do with the arts as opposed to entertainment. (I am not suggesting the arts are not entertaining; I am suggest that most entertainment isn’t, and doesn’t aspire to be, art.) Journalists of the calibre employed by the Guardian ought to be able to tell the difference.
5 Improve the search function. Currently you enter a phrase and you get results “sorted” by date or by “relevance” (relevance is neither defined nor apparent). If you select one result you cannot go back to the search results to select another, you have to start all over again. On the other hand, if you do not want to avail yourself of any of the search results shown, you can’t get rid of them! All this needs to be fixed. The orders in which the results are displayed should be more flexible and useful.
Most of all, searches should be available on a large number of parameters (not just one text string). The current facility is almost useless. I have to use Google to find material on the Guardian site.
6 Allow the reader much more flexibility in suppressing content that they do not wish to see. For example, it’s possible to suppress a whole section of items, such as sports. But you can’t then stop sports items appearing when they are placed in other sections such as headlines or opinion. The presentation of content could and should be far more flexible. Readers should be able to tailor the presentation of the site’s content to their taste. This is one of the big things that print cannot do and yet it is almost wholly ignored by the Guardian site.
7 Navigation is the site’s weakness. It is not clear where everything is or how to get more of the same. Although I found the (belated) obituary of Sir Harry Kroto published in the paper today (6 may 2016) by using the search facility online, it was impossible to find it by navigation (this is partly because science is not one of the main menu items).
8 Comment is free should be much more strongly moderated (or else closed). Rude, abusive posts should always be suppressed and, in my opinion, posts that are simply stupid should also be removed (or at least hidden under a flag which readers could select if they really had nothing better to do with their lives than read dross).
Comment is free (Cif) is not a public platform, access to which anyone has as of right. It is a privately owned platform to which people are invited. The Guardian has criteria of quality for the articles it pays for, either from staff or contributors; it should have standards which apply to the quality of Cif content too. Just as the content of paid for items doesn’t appear on the site to caress their writers’ egos—the material is there for subscribers’ benefit—so the comments added by the public aren’t there for the contributors’ benefit; they are there for everyone else’s benefit, and everyone else should not have to wade through acres of dross to find the good bits.
I believe Cif should only be available to those who pay some sort of subscription (eg, the basic £49/year). People should not be allowed to hide behind pseudonyms; the name that appears against a comment should be the cardholder’s name that was used when the subscription was taken out.
In dumbing down the content in order to reach the widest group of payers for content, the Guardian risks destroying the very thing that people are prepared to pay for, namely quality.
† Of course, these days, if I wanted to subscribe every day to the paper, I could take a cheaper subscription; my point is that, ten and more years ago, when such subscriptions weren’t available, I was still willing to cough up the cover price each day.
* added 7 july 2017: It’s true that, of you click on ‘News’/’Tech’, you get ‘Science’, but this makes my point: science is too important to be consigned to being an also ran. And you alos get ‘Obituaries’ under ‘News’/Tech’, and god tell me how anyone is supposed to guess that that’s where they are.
Neither arts nor science are on the phone version of the site’s menu. Further, arts is not on either the desktop or phone subsidiary menus, other than as a submenu item, “arts & design [?]”.
Note added 7 july 2017: Following an apparent reworking of the menu structure and of navigation, ‘Arts’ is a top level menu option (one of five) displayed on the home page, but ‘Science’ isn’t. It appears as a third level menu item in the News/Tech menu. It is easier to see what’s available but I still cavil at the prominence given to some ephemera: ‘Football’ is a second level menu item off both the ‘News’ and ‘Sport’ top level menu item. This is a good start, and has to be continued.
[*1] The Guardian to increase its cover price by 20p (Mark Sweney, news item, the Guardian, 8 april 2016)
© Jeremy Marchant 2016 . updated 9 may 2016, 7 july 2017. image: Free images