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The Canary In The Guardian’s Coal Mine

When a country is in trouble, it looks for scapegoats. All too often, that scapegoat has been the Jew. Something similar has been happening at The Guardian.

The Guardian is in a death spiral. Like most newspapers, it has found that readers prefer not to pay for something that they can read for free on their mobile phones on the way in to work. In order to survive, it has undergone a sea-change into something rich – not in a monetary sense – and strange.

Most of you will be familiar with the extent of the problem at the beleaguered newspaper. The Scott Trust is in reasonable financial shape, and provides a safety net: but there is a natural limit to how long it can continue to underwrite a vanity project. Der Spiegel reports:

The Guardian has been losing money every year since 2004. Last year alone, it and its sister newspaper, the Observer, lost more than €47 million. It’s only thanks to the farsightedness and generosity of its former owners, the Scott family, that the paper hasn’t gone bankrupt.

Since 1936, the paper has been funded by the Scott Trust. This structure has but a single aim: “To secure the editorial independence of The Guardian in perpetuity.”

Many newspapers would like to be based on such a business model. The Scott Trust owns a number of lucrative companies, including the used-car magazine and portal Auto Trader. The profits generated on these are used to offset the heavy losses incurred by The Guardian.

“Our mission is to be profit seeking rather than profit finding,” says Deputy Editor Ian Katz. Even CP Scott, the paper’s owner in the early 20th century, believed it was more important to be influential than to turn a profit.

However, the Guardian’s losses have become too big to absorb — and in 2007 the Scott Trust was forced to sell some of its assets to refill its coffers.

Andrew Miller, a former consumer-goods industry manager and for the past year the managing director of the newspaper’s parent company, the Guardian Media Group, recently warned that if the Guardian continued to make such heavy losses, the company would simply run out of money within five years.

Alan Rusbridger’s solution is to turn The Guardian into a Huffington Post style web venture. Der Spiegel explains how this is supposed to work:

But for all its online verve, the Guardian isn’t making any money on the web either. Aside from a few allied services and a mobile subscription, the paper gives away its content wholesale, convinced this is the only way it will eventually be profitable. The hope is that the more people use the online edition, the greater the associated advertising revenues will one day become.

To date it has remained just that: A hope, though Rusbridger has a two-line graph he thinks proves his point. One line shows income from the print edition which is heading steadily downward. The other shows income from the web and points in the opposite direction. His reporters jokingly call the point where the two lines intersect the “Rusbridger cross”, the moment when their boss’ gamble would theoretically pay off even though the print Guardian continues to lose money.

The only question now is when and at what level the two lines will meet. “It is far too early to say that it won’t work out,” he Rusbridger says. “We have to wait and change the advertising industry’s mind.”

Comment is Free is at the very heart of this project. The problem is that the website is a cesspool. The greater its “success”, the more extensive the damage to The Guardian’s brand.

Recently, The Guardian launched its Open Journalism initiative. Put simply, it constitutes the infection of the remainder of the newspaper by the values embodied by CIF. This was made clear in the “Cannes Lion Award Winning” Three Little Pigs advert, which in one scene featured a nutter in his bedroom finding out “the truth” by googling around on the internet, and phoning it into the newspaper.

According to a recent GQ article, Guardian staffers understand well the problematic nature of The Guardian’s new business strategy:

The atmosphere among Guardian staff is turbulent. A reporter tells GQ: “There’s a lot of grumbling. People don’t like what the management is doing. They get that we’re losing money hand over fist and we need to stop the losses as much as we can, but they think that what’s being sacrificed is journalism.”At the heart of the Guardian’s problems is a crucial question: how much does good journalism matter? Or rather: how much is it worth?

For a decade now, ever since Seumas Milne, the former Business Manager of the Stalinist Straight Left newspaper was installed as Comment Editor of The Guardian, the newspaper and its associated web venture, Comment is Free, has been a happy home for anti-Israel obsessives, Hamas supporters, and activists in fringe far Left political parties.

I should make one  thing clear. The reason that this has happened is not that the CIF clique are antisemites. Rather, they are America-haters, from the fine old British tradition with its roots in both upper middle class elites and the far Left. None of these people see themselves as Jew haters. They see themselves as progressives, at the vanguard of opposition to “imperialism” and injustice. They honestly believe themselves to be good people, doing important work. When they publish and promote people who want to kill Jews – even as they congratulate themselves for their opposition to “racism in a digital age” – it is because they think they’re socking it to the global hegemon. For those on the far Left, that is the USA:  some of those they publish believe that it is Israel and the Jews who are pulling the strings of power. However, that’s no biggie. Seumas Milne supports them all, and gave them column space, for the same reason that he supported ”militants”  in Iraq who killed British servicemen.

As a business strategy, this editorial line has paid dividends, but of a very odd sort. Some readers, who share these preoccupations, like it very much. Others, including long time self-defined “Guardian readers” loathe it. Either way, it generates page impressions, which in Rusbridger’s mind must eventually translate into profit.

Under the leadership of Becky Gardiner, the process has accelerated. It is now pretty much impossible, for example, to get an article in response or rebuttal even to an article by Hamas onto the website. As readers will know, any attempt to draw attention to Hamas’ notorious Covenant will result in immediate deletion of the comment. The Guardian’s official position is that of Nelsonian blindness to antisemitism and theologically backed promises to kill Jews.

Repeated attempts were made by Jewish Guardian writers to encourage Becky Gardiner to allow a single word of dissent on the subject of Raed Salah, the blood libel cleric, whose Op Ed was published on Holocaust Rememberance Day. Muslim liberals, tried too. All were batted away by Becky Gardiner: because she is a supporter of the man, what he stands for, what he says. Not content with offering the racist hate preacher a column, Gardiner even intervened to defend her hero in the resultant discussion.

The adulation of Raed Salah continued in the newspaper itself, where he was championed by David Hearst. When Salah lost at first instance, The Guardian simply refused to report the fact. Instead, it recycled conspiracy theories about The Community Security Trust’s role in the affair, propagated by Asa Winstanley: a “Christian Youth Minister at the Wembley Church of Christ“. They also published, on  Holocaust Memorial Day, a completely erroneous piece – which they later had to correct – about a supposed conflict of interest between Michael Gove MP and The Community Security Trust.  The source for that article was Professor David Miller, whose website once notoriously reproduced the thesis of a notorious neo Nazi, Kevin MacDonald, who believes that Jews are genetically predisposed to scheme and conspire against non-Jews.

Open journalism in action.

Well, who could possibly have predicted that when The Guardian opened its doors to those whose nastiness focused on Israel and Jews, that others – with a broader focus – would follow in their wake?

So, it has happened. If there is no reason to bat an eyelid at the parade of clerical fascists who are supporters or members of Hamas, then there can be no reason to oppose the printing of supporters of other associated clerical fascist parties: Egypt’s Ikhwan, Tunisia’s Ennahda. If them, why not mouthpieces and apologists for the Islamic Republic of Iran? And if you’re going to have Islamists and Communists from far away lands, who believe that their woes result from a world wide Jewish conspiracy, why not our own home-grown nutters: people like the comedian Charlie Skelton who has convinced himself that reporting on Syria is being controlled by a conspiracy involving the Bilderberg Group and George Soros?

Unhappiness at The Guardian with the direction of Comment is Free could not be clearer. Former Middle East Editor and Comment is Free Editor Brian Whitaker appears to be in open revolt, twittering away his anger at his inability to get an article criticising the approach to Middle East politics of the writer’s “infantile leftist ex-friends” – a phrase Whitaker might use himself – published by the website he supposedly edits.

Let me be absolutely clear about this. If Guardian journalists are twitchy about what is happening to their newspaper, they have only themselves to blame. The Jews were, as always, the canary in the coal mine. When those journalists stayed silent, either because they didn’t think they could say anything, or because they didn’t care, or even because they partly agreed, they allowed a culture of zaniness and extremism to take root at the newspaper. Now, the guns have been turned on them, over Syria and Middle East reporting generally, and it may well be too late for them to stop it. The Indymediaisation of The Guardian is likely spread further, across its other departments, as experts leave and are replaced by “Open Journalism” monomaniacs.

The problem is pretty clear. The Guardian has no self correcting mechanism. When long time readers of the newspaper – buyers of their product – appeared in comment threads asking what had happened to the journal that once defined their values, they were written off as “Tory Trolls” or “Zionists”.  Like many on the Left, The Guardian believes that it can do no wrong, and can make no mistakes. Its management cannot comprehend why many people who once loved the newspaper now think of it as the nasty paper, a sort of Daily Mail of the Left, whose online circulation is kept high by trolling its own readers.

Indeed, a friend whose judgement I respect, advised me not to mention Jews in this piece at all. To do so, he argued, would result in most people just switching off. That is exactly my point. Too many people switched off when Comment is Free began its decline, because they thought that it didn’t matter, or that it was best not to fuss, or that these were essentially communalist and parochial concerns. This is why we are where we are, generally.

I would love to see The Guardian return to basic journalistic values. However, with money short, genuine reporting is expensive: but comment is free.

What The Guardian really should do is to sack Becky Gardiner and to make a conscious effort to capture the mainstream. The GQ article quotes Juan Señor, a partner at Innovation Media Consulting, who observes:

“It’s the same old strategy of going for volume when they should be going for value. They’re obsessed with volume. They can’t see past the old digital fable that ‘if you build it, they will come’. It’s almost become a messianic mission.”

But CIF – in its present form – may well now be a juggernaut that cannot be halted. What The Guardian has built is a home for a very vocal, weird and nasty fringe. There’s brass to be made from muck, most certainly. However, what The Guardian will lose forever, and may have already damaged beyond repair, is its reputation.

Once that has happened, Rusbridger’s cross – the point at which the venture can run on web profits alone – will be forever outside his grasp.