Next, the Guardian’s revelations about the extent of illegal phone tapping by journalists at Rupert Murdoch’s News of the World in 2011 helped bring down the massively popular British tabloid and led to a wave of criminal prosecutions in Britain.
In late May, the Guardian was at it once more. The newspaper raced The Washington Post to break details of a massive National Security Agency surveillance program. It subsequently posted the first and only video interview with Edward Snowden, the young American security contractor who was the source of The Post’s and Guardian’s stories.
Not a bad run of scoops for a financially struggling, frankly liberal newspaper with a newsprint circulation of fewer than 160,000 copies daily (which makes it roughly the size of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) but with a significantly larger digital following worldwide.
The NSA stories, in particular, raised the Guardian’s profile to an Everest-like peak. Its video interview with Snowden, conducted by its star American columnist Glenn Greenwald, attracted nearly 7 million unique views worldwide in one day. The total was a record for the paper’s Web site, which is already one of the world’s most heavily trafficked news sites with a high of 41 million unique monthly visitors.
The NSA and WikiLeaks revelations also raise a question: Why is a London-based news organization revealing so many secrets about the American government?
“We’re just doing what journalists do,” replies Alan Rusbridger, the Guardian’s longtime editor and architect of its global digital strategy. “We were contacted, just as The Washington Post was contacted, [by a source] with some very interesting documents. No journalist in the world wouldn’t have been interested in this.”
The Guardian, he points out, is equally dogged about domestic spying; it published revelations last month that the British equivalent of the NSA monitored the computers and phone calls of foreign officials during two G-20 summit meetings in London in 2009 — a story that embarrassed the British government on the eve of hosting another international summit.
Since 2008, the Guardian has been making a major push to appeal to the American market. After a bout of layoffs, it now employs 29 journalists in the United States, primarily in New York and Washington. Online visitors from the States are channeled to the Guardian’s U.S. edition, which features America-centric news. Monday’s page, for example, carried articles about the deaths of firefighters in Arizona and a retrospective of photos from the Battle of Gettysburg.