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British News Outlets Flock To U.S. Touting Global Perspective

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NEW YORK -- The Daily Mail may soon have a new, yet familiar, neighbour in downtown Manhattan.

Recently, the Guardian has been checking out office space in media-favourite Soho, just a few blocks from where the Daily Mail set up shop this past February. Although the two British papers have different journalistic missions, they share a common goal: to attract even more US eyeballs to their respective websites now drawing more readers on the other side of the Atlantic.

In interviews with The Huffington Post, high-ranking executives and editors at the Daily Mail and Guardian - along with the Financial Times and BBC - each spoke of the "global" nature of their respective news outlets in the Internet age and how they provide alternative perspectives for US news consumers. And with a population of 300 million, that's a potentially lucrative audience to pull from.

As the Financial Times continues seeking subscribers across paid platforms, the BBC hopes to increase distribution of its commercial 24-hour news service and build out its US-facing website. Meanwhile, the Mail and Guardian hope to increase online advertising revenue on their free sites by building up a larger, global audience. Similarly, The Huffington Post, which also doesn’t charge for online content, is launching here in the UK today as part of a 12-country expansion this year.

ONE MORE TRY

For the cash-hemorrhaging Guardian, which just announced a “digital-first” strategy that includes scrapping international print editions and future job cuts, online advertising revenue is essential to its future.

“If you’re going to be digital-first, you really have to make the most of your digital audience,” said Janine Gibson, editor of guardian.co.uk and head of the paper’s US digital operation. “A third of our audience is in the US. A third is in the UK. And a third is in the rest of the world.”

It’s not the first time the Guardian has tried expanding in the States.

During the Bush years, the Guardian tried attracting US readers whose worldview more closely matched the paper's left-of-centre politics than the man occupying the White House. In 2002, the Guardian launched a weekly print magazine that was killed the next year. Five years later, the Guardian launched the Guardian America site with a small staff primarily based in Washington DC. The site couldn't find its footing and shut down two years later. One former Guardian America staffer recently told New York Observer that site suffered because “the paper didn’t know who the target audience was and what it wanted, nor how to use the Guardian brand.”

Gibson says the Guardian’s latest US expansion - part of what industry analyst Ken Doctor dubbed a “British invasion” last week - is different and includes a “significantly larger investment in the US than we have ever made before.” The Guardian will now have a New York headquarters for the future US focused-site and a US editor to oversee a staff comprised of Americans and staffers soon heading over from London.

The forthcoming site won’t be an “American Guardian,” Gibson said, but rather serve as a way to bring the “Guardian view of the world” to a US audience while, at the same time, keeping US reader interests in mind. So Guardian fans in the US already flocking to the paper's Arab Spring or WikiLeaks reports over the past year will soon also have the option of reading more Guardian coverage of their own backyard.

Gibson describes the “Guardian reader” - whether sitting in front of a computer or holding a tablet in the US, UK or anywhere else - as sharing several traits: “internationalist, progressive, likes to be challenged in their thinking and has broad interests, from investigative reporting to pop culture.”

Guardian readers,” she continued, “are the same the world over.”

‘A GLOBALISED MARKET'

Martin Clarke, the fiery publisher of the Daily Mail’s hugely successful Mail Online site, says "there are two news worlds now."

“There’s an old-fashioned analogue agenda where you’ve got American news and British news and foreign news and everyone’s a bit siloed," he continued. "Then you’ve got the world of the web generation where they’re living to a different news cycle.”

Relaunched in 2008, The Daily Mail's site - complete with sensational headlines, shocking crime stories and a healthy dose of bikini-clad starlets - is a creature of the web rather than the online equivalent of a narrowly focused newspaper. But given that online advertising still measure up to advertising in the print edition, Clarke realised that “if you want to survive, you had to broaden your niche” on the Internet.

“One of the advantages we had, as a middle market paper, was that it was easy for us to stretch our elbows in different directions,” Clarke said, "obviously by doing more showbiz than the paper does. But also by moving upmarket as well. We do more science, history, and archaeology stories for instance and more foreign coverage than the paper.”

While US readers were already finding Mail Online - whether through links on social networks like Facebook or powerhouse aggregators like The Drudge Report - executives decided that with a few boots on the ground they'd grow even more. Last fall, the Daily Mail opened a small office in Los Angeles to focus on showbiz, followed by the New York branch four months later. And to monetise that traffic, the Daily Mail recently opened a couple of sales offices in LA and Chicago. Those moves have paid off, according to Clarke, who says US traffic is up 300 percent since September.

In May, the Daily Mail attracted nearly 19 million unique visitors, according to tracking firm comScore. That's more than its UK audience and over 40 percent worldwide. That month, the Daily Mail topped longstanding US newspaper sites like the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal in unique visitors, while now sitting below only The Huffington Post, New York Times, and Washington Post.

Since September, Clarke's observed that there's often a strong UK reader interest US showbiz coverage churned out in the L.A.-bureau. “For example, we discovered pretty quickly that loads of British people were interested in Jersey Shore long before it was even broadcast there,” he said.

Clarke says there's a "trans-Atlantic culture" online where people are "worried about and interested in the same things" and because of that, "English-language news is a now a globalised market.”

Emily Bell, a journalism professor and director of the Tow Center at Columbia University, sees opportunity in expansion for both papers.

"When you look at the Daily Mail and the Guardian, I can’t think there’s anything wrong with the strategy of international expansion,” said Bell, who previously ran guardian.co.uk and continues to have a writing/ consulting contract with the paper. “If what you’re doing is pursuing a web strategy which is really around broad audiences, you can mine more growth out of just the UK market,” Bell continued. “Ultimately, on the web, you have to have at least an Anglophone international perspective. It doesn’t make sense to restrict yourself to your domestic audience.”

THE BRITISH ARE COMING!

So should newspaper executive over in the US be worried about this latest British invasion?

"The Times, because our ambitions are so broad, competes in one way or another with just about everyone - for stories, for readers and their time, for advertisers or for staff,” said outgoing New York Times executive editor Bill Keller, adding that the paper still brought in 48.7 million global unique visitors last month despite putting up a metered paywall.

“My sense is that a lot of the new entrants in the news marketplace are not so much supplanting homegrown competitors as expanding the menu,” Keller continued. “I think Times readers graze a lot of places, but come to NYTimes.com for a meal. Thus I think some Times regulars will go to Mail Online for the Monaco royal wedding, sensational crime coverage, the guy who built a T-Rex out of balloons (to pick three items on their home page this afternoon.) They will go to the Beeb for additional international news coverage. They will go to the FT for the obvious. They will go to the Guardian for a dose of news with left-leaning attitude."

While the publicly financed BBC fights cuts back home, BBC Worldwide - a commercial arm that oversees BBC.com, BBC America and BBC World News - hopes to bring in revenue in the US and around the world. “We think of ourselves as a global player rather than one emphasising a UK perspective,” said Peter Horrocks, director of global news.

In March, BBC Worldwide moved “BBC World News America,” its signature US broadcast, from the entertainment-focused BBC America to public broadcaster PBS. While that move may look like BBC Worldwide is pulling back on hard news in the states, executives insist that its part of a wider strategy in gaining visibility for the news brand on PBS while continuing to focus on BBC.com and BBC World News.

But at this point, BBC World News is only available in about six million homes - an issue executives will need to remedy. BBC Worldwide now has distribution deals through Verizon and Cablevision, according to Horrocks, and has held advanced talks with Comcast. “We’re making the strong case that there’s an internationally interested audience hungry for international news,’ he said. (Al Jazeera English is making a similar pitch, but lingering negative perceptions about its content continues to impede its path onto the cable dial.)

Nick Ascheim, a former New York Times and Associated Press executive, joined in May to oversee digital strategy. He says the BBC's hiring a small team of video journalists, building on the network's strong broadcast legacy, and will also repackage and reformat content from London for a US audience.

The FT , with a US staff of 200 people stretched across six cities, has been at this game since around 1997. Greg Zorthian, president of the Americas and global circulation director, says the FT's "fabulous" journalism, strong brand identity, and international perspective is what's opened up the US market for them. Similarly, the FT also touts international stature - rather than Britishness - as its main selling point Stateside.

“We’re not a British paper. We’re a global newspaper,” Zorthian said. “We just happen to have our headquarters in London. We cover the globe from a perspective that is different.”

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