Edward Snowden wouldn't have come to us if a paywall had been in the way, says Guardian's deputy chief executive

US whistleblower Edward Snowden would not have given his material to the Guardian had the website sat behind a paywall, according to the Guardian's deputy chief executive, David Pemsel.

Guardian deputy chief executive David Pemsel

Openness is at the heart of the Guardian's strategy, Pemsel said during his opening keynote at the Guardian Media Summit in London, and without an open reach, figures like Snowden would have gone elsewhere and the Guardian would have lost its acclaimed journalism on the issue.

"We do believe that if we had not been open, if we did not have a brand that was globally influential or indeed could garner response and create comment, people like Edward Snowden would not be coming to us, they would go somewhere else."

According to Pemsel, the Guardian's coverage of the Snowden revelations about citizen surveillance by US and UK authorities pushed it up to become one of the top 12 websites in the US and one of the top eight in Australia.

The coverage presented one of the biggest showdowns seen in recent times between government and the media after Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald's partner David Miranda was detained at Heathrow airport under the Terrorism Act just weeks after the Guardian began publishing information garnered from Snowden.

Pemsel went on to take a swipe at the paywall model, which he said stunted journalistic and growth opportunities.

"We believe open is the best expression of how content should travel in this new digital space. The whole idea of judging one's success by a finite number of subs making a certain amount of money each month does not allow you to take the full extent of digital across the globe."

Pemsel added that the Guardian's digital strategy has delivered eight consecutive quarters of digital growth, resulting in 50 per cent digital advertising revenue for the brand, a growth of 20 per cent year on year.

The Guardian has remained steadfast in its no-paywall strategy, despite many major UK titles adopting it in some form over the last 12 months. The Telegraph introduced a metered paywall last year which apparently made £60m and in August the Sun joined the Times behind a full paywall.

Chris Boffey, former news editor of the Guardian's sister title, the Observer, recently called for heavier adoption of publishers requiring their content be paid for.


Angela Haggerty

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