Named executive editor of washingtonpost.com in late 2004, Jim Brady presided over a near-doubling in Web traffic and saw the site win numerous awards during his four-year tenure. After the Post announced plans to integrate its print and online operations, Brady stepped down earlier this year. He is now serving as a consultant to Guardian America, a Web site published by the liberal British newspaper that is geared toward American audiences.
Brady spoke Friday with CJR assistant editor Greg Marx about building a Web-friendly culture, the revenue potential of mobile applications, and what he sees as a fallow year for online innovation. An edited transcript appears below.
Greg Marx: So you’re running www.washingtonpost.com for a number of years, you leave right around the start of this year, I imagine you’re looking for new challenges. Why Guardian America?
Jim Brady: Well, the Guardian has been one of those places that those of us in the States who have been working on the Web looked to for a long time and said, they clearly get it. They had the kind of culture that a lot of us were trying to emulate when we got our jobs in the States, to innovate and really build a newsroom that viewed the Web as not this annoying add-on but a central part of its future. So when I decided to leave the Post, [an opportunity presented itself] and I decided to be consulting editor over here and just take a chunk of time and try to figure out how to get the Guardian better integrated into the U.S. Web ecosystem.
GM: So you’ve been there a few months now. What do you feel like you’ve been able to accomplish so far, and what steps are you hoping to take?
JB: The Guardian has built a pretty good U.S. audience without ever really having a stated, dedicated focus on the U.S. There’s a U.S. page on the Web site, there’s a Guardian America front that has information that would be of interest to U.S. audiences, but there hasn’t been a really, really aggressive push to build that audience. So now we’re looking at how do you tap into social media, how do you tap into relationship-building with bloggers, how do you build in technology strategies to help surface content that’s interesting to American readers.
There’s a partnership piece to it—what partnerships could happen in the U.S. where the Guardian might be able to find a larger audience through collaborations with entities here? So it’s been a little bit on all those different fronts—some of it’s technology, some of it’s partnerships, some of it is just trying to follow some of the things that I did at the Post to help us build audience. There isn’t one silver bullet to building Web audience.
GM: You talked at the outset about how the Guardian has always had a more Web-oriented culture. Can you talk more specifically about what that means for you in terms of getting buy-in for an enterprise, or how long it takes to implement an idea? Have you noticed any differences in those situations?
JB: Absolutely. There’s a whole layer of evangelizing that is not really required at the Guardian. Even at the Post where I felt like a lot of the newsroom was engaged in what the Web was doing, and a lot of the newsroom was willing to do what the Web asked, there was still a group of people who you had to take out to lunch or have three or four meetings with to sell them on a concept. Sometimes the process of getting somebody to buy in to something could take a couple of months. At the Guardian, you don’t really ever get pushback when you come up with a good idea for the Web. It’s got to be put on a list of projects that also include print projects, but that’s fine—you don’t have to sell the idea itself…. You’re not selling the medium. The medium is already sold there…. So that just enables you to move faster when you can remove that entire part of the process.
A lot of this starts from [editor] Alan [Rusbridger], who’s on Twitter, who’s on Facebook, who’s active in social media, who’s very much a fan of the Web and technology and gadgets. He believes in it, he makes it clear he believes in it, and that obviously helps.
GM: The Guardian comes out of the British press tradition, in which it’s OK for a news organization to have an avowed political perspective. Does that make a difference in terms of reaching out to a Web audience?