British invasion: Can The Guardian and the BBC win over American readers?
One of the hoarier shibboleths dug up by the fuss over the NAFTA leaks is the inevitable palaver over the asymmetrical relationship between “them” (Americans) and “us” (Canadians). We all know that song—they don’t pay enough attention to us, they take us for granted, and when they do pay attention, it’s only to patronize us and/or dismiss us (Gawker defines Canada as “the large mass of semi-arable land blocking Montana’s view of the Arctic”). We all know it’s much worse than that: they simply don’t think about us except to do and say all of the above.
But who exactly is to blame for that? Take our newspapers and mags. Other than the diaspora who leave the Great White North and end up at the New York Times (Bruce Headlam and Paul Tough) or The New Yorker (the firm of Gladwell, Gopnik and Colapinto), Canada has no presence in the only media market that matters: Manhattan.
The British, on the other hand, have, over the past decade, stealthily moved over and made considerable hay. The Financial Times, the BBC, The Guardian and The Times of London have all made serious efforts at running viable money-making operations in the U.S. This as opposed to the Globe, which, if memory serves, once opened a newspaper box on the island of Manhattan to no particular notice.
According to The Guardian’s business reporter in New York, the always amusing Andrew Clark, the British efforts have met with mixed results (“the Times here is really only being read by friends and family of the staff in America” and the salmon-coloured FT “is always battling to get its voice heard over the mighty Wall Street Journal”), but ambition is real and continuing nonetheless.
In addition to its print edition, The Guardian recently set up a Web site—Guardian America—“to capitalize on the paper’s considerable following among American lefties.” Meanwhile the BBC has started showing its flagship news show, Newsnight, Friday evenings on American television. “BBC is trying to cash in on the fact that American network news tends to be very inward looking with not much in the way of foreign coverage.”
None of these strategies is a surefire winner. Clark is the first to wonder, “…if there was a Democrat in the White House, would there still be such an appetite for a liberal voice aimed at disillusioned Americans?” Still, at least the questions are being asked with an eye to sustaining the newspaper’s gains.
It certainly beats a newspaper box and a fervent prayer.