Lessons from a 200-year old start up

It was while working on The Guantanamo Diary motion animation that Aron Pilhofer realised he was no longer at the New York Times. “I have been involved in lots of reporting about a lot of important issues, but I’ve never been able to take the next step and say: this is what we are going to do about it, or, here is a statement we are going to make about it. […] It was pretty amazing.”

Aron Pilhofer has been working as executive editor of Digital at the Guardian since June 2014. The newspaper is almost 200 years old, but as its legacy was challenged by economics, it had to find ways to reinvent itself. The Guardian’s digital transition, said Pilhofer, resembles that of a media start-up in the way it tries to solve the same problems as them.

That required to rethink the way the newsroom is organised, with people with different skills working together to experiment and create new storytelling forms to keep bringing readers into the conversation. “People want to talk back … We should not be afraid of that, but we should embrace it,” he said.

To understand users’ engagement, the metric currently used, like page views, are outdated. Pilhofer suggested there is a need to find more sophisticated approaches to analytics and to the audience, like total time spent reading.

In navigating the impervious waters of digital transitioning and experimentation, Pilhofer’s advices are simple: keep an open mind, and remember it is a team’s effort, and that it can be done without having to give up on journalism culture, no matter the media used. To think in terms of different media pinned against one another is not productive, he concluded: “It’s got to be ‘and’ not ‘vs.’ – this is a team sport and we all gotta be there together.”

In this interview following the speech, Pilhofer talked about the cost of the transition, what to consider when producing a digital story, and the increasing importance of cooperation in journalism.

You can watch the full speech here