Guardian : a brief history

The paper Rusbridger headed was founded in 1821 as the Manchester Guardian , based in northern England. The daily paper dropped “Manchester” from the title in 1959, and in 1964 it moved operations to London. [1] Its circulation in 2010 fell from over 300,000 to some 280,000—ranking about 10th among British national newspapers. [2] Its sister paper since 1993, the Observer , was published on Sundays. The Guardian was the only national paper with an ombudsman (“readers’ editor”), first appointed in 1997. In late 2008, the company moved to a modern building in the King’s Cross section of London.

A left-leaning publication from the start, the Guardian emerged with time as a member of the “serious” national British daily press (along with the Financial Times , the Daily Telegraph , the Times of London, and the Independent ). It was supported since 1936 by the Scott Trust, established by John Russell Scott, whose family had owned and edited the paper for decades. The Trust was pledged to preserve the editorial independence of the paper. All profits went back into the improvement of the publication, an unusual arrangement which to a degree insulated the paper from economic fluctuations in the industry.

By the early 1990s, it had largely shed an early reputation for cheap production and multiple typos (the satirical magazine Private Eye dubbed it the Grauniad ), and went on to win multiple prestigious journalism awards, including the British Press Awards National Newspaper of the Year in 1997 and 2006. [3] One of its best-known scoops was a series of investigations into Tory MPs Jonathan Aitken and Neil Hamilton, which led to the 1997 downfall of the Conservative government.

The Guardian also had a substantial online presence with, by 2010, the largest Web readership of any English-language newspaper after the New York Times . The editors subscribed to a “free content” philosophy, and declined to charge online readers. The website, launched in 1999, won the 2005, 2006, and 2007 Webby award (given by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences) for best newspaper on the Internet. It also swept the hustings as Best Electronic Daily Newspaper for six years running from the British Newspaper Awards. [4]

The Guardian ’s editor in 2010 was Alan Rusbridger, 57, who first joined the paper in 1979. He left the paper for a period in the mid-1980s, but returned in 1987 and helped to launch a new section, Guardian Weekend . After a stint as deputy editor, Rusbridger was named editor in 1995; he helped foster the explosive growth of the paper’s website. [5] It was that prominence online which first attracted the attention, and the admiration, of a first-rate Internet hacker, Julian Assange.

[1] For more on the Guardian ’s history, see “History of the Guardian,” Guardian .

[2] For circulation numbers, see “ABCs: National daily newspaper circulation October 2010,” Guardian , November 12, 2010.

[3] For a list of award winners, see “British Press Awards,” Press Gazette .

[5] On the side, Rusbridger wrote children’s books and served as chair of the National Youth Orchestra.