You might want to watch the Guardian website today to witness an historic Internet moment, for the British "paper" has announced that it will from this date be "publishing stories first to the web, ending the primacy of the printed newspaper." That's the grand announcement – when you dig around you find that it is starting with the foreign and city desks.
Initially, the change will probably only be noticeable to those who watch newspapers closely, since their websites have for years been using wire copy (AP, Reuters, etc.) to cover breaking news, sometimes quickly hacked up into their style by a very junior reporter or sub-editor. But what the Guardian is planning is for the main stories – the material written by its specialist top reporters (and I suppose eventually potentially comment writers) – to be published as soon as it is ready, potentially half a day or more before they appear in print. In other words, the Guardian will be a website that happens to have a print edition.
Anyone who has worked on a newspaper or magazine, be it a daily, a weekly, or a monthly, will know that each publishing period has a certain rhythm. After the final sprint to publication, there is a pause, a drawing of breath. People chat, read the competition, summon their resources, start making a few calls, begin to think about the next edition, and then get seriously stuck into it until that final rush to publication again. So this will require an enormous culture change – don't necessarily expect to see dramatic floods of copy through the day straight away.
Beyond culture, this also implies a massive financial change. Does this mean the website is more important, brings in more revenue than the print version? Not yet, but it certainly indicates that this is where the Guardian sees the economic future.
Then there's the border question. The Guardian, as a leftwing serious paper of record with an international outlook, has no equivalent in the United States. It claims 13 million unique users a month and it is thought that more of these may be in North America than in the UK. I certainly notice North American bloggers, and not just those with obvious UK links, often using it as a source – both those in broad sympathy with its politics and those vehemently opposed to them. If the website becomes its primary outlet, does saying it is a "British" newspaper mean much at all?