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May 23, 2008

Sharp elbows, big words: The Guardian talks tough

By Peter Kirwan MM blog

Evolution is a remarkable thing. At the Guardian Media Group, it has resulted in executives sprouting what used to be called sharp elbows.

Last month, I was intrigued to see GMG chairman Paul Myners telling the House of Lords Communications Committee that Google needed to sign up to ACAP — forthwith.

At least I think that’s what Myners meant when he said:

“The sort of agreement that we seek through ACAP is one which will only work if all parties to the agreement recognise that it is in their interest for it to work… that there is a symbiotic relationship that is in both parties’ interests to sustain and neither parties’ interests to abuse at the unreasonable expense of the other.”

Was this a warning to Google that it shouldn’t “abuse” Guardian Media Group and cause it “unreasonable expense”?

We think so.

Despite the clotted language, Myners’ approach was a radical improvement on the fey approach to Google publicly adopted by most Guardian editorial types.

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Alan Rusbridger seems to have had his elbows sharpened in similar manner.

A while back, he launched The Guardian’s revamped editorial operation with a pledge to take the New York Times to the cleaners in cyberspace. (Well, sort of.)

Rusbridger’s elbows-first address to the troops was duly noted at the New York Times.

Last Thursday, at the Online Publishers Association’s Forum For The Future, Martin Nisenholtz, the Times‘s senior vice-president for digital, signalled his dislike of them apples.

He responded by taking a pop at Guardian America: “It’s misleading to suggest you have an international brand just because someone came from Google or clicked on a link from a blog. That’s not a brand extension – it’s a click.”

Keeping up the pressure, Emily Bell, director of digital media at Guardian Media Group, opened fire on another friend-cum-competitor at the same event.

The BBC’s web sites, she said, will represent “an enormous state-funded intervention in the US advertising market”.

Six months ago, the word “tough” cropped up about a dozen times in an entertaining Andrew Davidson profile of Carolyn McCall published in Management Today.

It’s encouraging to think she might have been serious.

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