Eventually, toward the middle of 2004, the Guardian announced its plans for reformatting the paper. In a way it is a compromise on its original stance of staying loyal to the broadsheet format. But the National Readership Survey (NRS) figures for the six months ending 4 March, 2004 made Alan Rusbridger (the chief editor) to rethink the strategy. The survey showed that “not only has The Independent increased its readership by 30 per cent overall compared with the same period a year ago, it has added an astounding 40 per cent more readers in the 15-44 age bracket with which advertisers are obsessed” (Wilby 2005). In this scenario, it is commercially imprudent on part of Rusbridger and his team to remain obdurate and inflexible. The challenge for the management at this juncture is to reformat the Guardian without compromising on its core values – the set of journalistic ethos that is behind the newspaper’s success for a hundred years.
The following months were the most challenging for Rusbridger and his team. They have to strike a delicate balance in order to maintain a significant presence in British print media. The Guardian’s answer to turn around its fortunes is the Berliner Morgenpost format. Rusbridger had some sound reasons for choosing the Berliner format, for “the Berliner Morgenpost is a quality tabloid which is only marginally wider than the British standard tabloid size but several inches longer. The Guardian management believed the extra space will allow for more original and imaginative quality tabloid layouts and a bigger story count on the front page”. (Neil 2004)
The transition to the smaller format, also referred to in the Guardian offices as the “Morgenpost Strategy” was hampered by technical issues. Most other British dailies which down sized to tabloid format had a relatively smooth transition. The delay in implementing the new strategy was because “there was virtually no printing press capacity in Britain capable of producing this size. The Guardian had to invest in new capacity or adapt existing presses. Given the capital cost of doing that, there are strong voices in the company who wanted its Sunday sister, The Observer, to also move to that size”. (Neil 2004) Such sweeping changes make sense when seen in light of the costs incurred. For example, the new printing facilities cost the Guardian Media Group an estimated 50 million pounds sterling since the previously used “presses can produce either a broadsheet or a tabloid form but not a Berliner” (The Evening Standard, 2005). This led Guardian to many penalties for withdrawing from its pre-existing printing contracts prematurely. But in retrospect, the strategy seemed to have paid off.
At the same time that Rusbridger opted for the Berliner format, the top management made a concerted effort to strengthen the brand in electronic mediums of communication. As Rusbridger saw it, the motto for Guardian should be “selling news” as opposed to “selling newspapers”. Hence newer mediums of communication including the Internet, podcasts, mobile phones, etc were explored for viability. What began as an experiment five years ago has now turned into a great success. The paper’s circulation has not crossed 400,000 in this period, but its website Guardian Unlimited (www.guardian.co.uk) attracts 13 million unique visitors every month, attracting sizeable advertising revenue in the process. The website also won the Webby Award for the best newspaper in 2006. The management’s willingness to adapt new features from one version to the other is what makes them both successful. For example,
“The Guardian is using its experience online as the foundation for new web like features in the printed paper as well as on its site. It not only keeps its readers abreast of what’s going on in the blogosphere, it has a regular ‘Response’ column, which offers those who have been written about in the Guardian an opportunity to reply” at greater length than in a letter; it has a travel guide, ‘Been There’, written by readers for readers; and it runs obituaries of ordinary people written by those who knew them.” (Sellers 2006)