14 Sept 2014

The Guardian Membership Programme: is it on the right lines?

The Guardian's new membership-driven strategy, announced on Wednesday, stands in direct opposition to the paywalls of publications like the Times. Where its best weapon lies is in recognising that the media's value is in building a strong relationship with its community, instead of selling access to its information - but does its proposed model really offer both itself, and its reader, the best option?

A big part of the move involves a massive live events venue, or conference centre - renovated from a former railway building close to the Guardian's Kings Place office. At this venue, there'll be discussions, debates, interviews, speeches and festivals, moving the organisation further away from being 'just a newspaper'. People can now pay for Guardian membership which provides access to its events. 

Joining the Guardian

As editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger put it: "You’ve read the Guardian. Maybe, in recent times, you’ve listened to, or watched the Guardian. You may have come to our building to learn with the Guardian, in one of our series of Masterclasses. Now you can join the Guardian."

So what do you get by joining the Guardian? Why would you want to become a member? Surely it has to be more than simply an event-based concept. Well, yes, it's tiered payment system provides the potential for effective community engagement. As the image below shows, there is a free option to be a Friend of the publication - but to become a Partner or Patron costs a fair amount of money.

Guardian community membership model

Friends of the paper get access to the Guardian's online material, as readers do now, and can get access to the live events. If, however, you're willing to part with some cash, a Partner (£15/ month) can get a discount on the event tickets, book them in advance and even watch lifestreams of the events. Patrons (£60/ month) obtain special access to private events and "unique experiences".

So, it seems somewhat analogous to being a member of a political party. Most grassroots supporters of the Conservative Party get very little out of the connection, except perhaps a lot of spam asking them to donate more to the cause. Minus the spam, the Guardian's membership programme promises to act in the same kind of way - allowing individuals to support the newspaper. At the same time, the membership does come with some real benefits - whether these are worth £540 a year (for the most expensive Patron 
membership) is open for debate until we see what these events will be.


The Guardian already puts on masterclasses, conferences and other events, so that's nothing new. Other news organisations, such as The New York Times, offer similar membership-based events, so the concept isn't unique. Except for the fact that they'll now take place in a brand-new shiny building. Just like their move to Kings Place in the first place, the sheer audacity of the scale of the Guardian's project sets it apart. Once again, the organisation is flying in the face of the streamlining of other news publications by expanding in a massive way. 

They've "taken the plunge", according to Rusbridger, building an entire building dedicated to community engagement. He speaks of "deepening the intense bond between the producers and consumers of what we do", stating that "the only relationship our journalists have is with our readers", courtesy of the security the Scott Trust provides the Guardian

"The more digital the world becomes, so the appetite for physical meet-ups and live events grow"

There are, however, concerns with this model. Surely, by introducing a scheme whereby people can pay for "unique experiences" at the Guardian, people will be able to pay to get the eyes and ears of heretofore unbiased, liberal and independent editors. The chance of mingling with high-profile people from the Guardian inevitably raises such questions, and so proper protection needs to be in place to ensure that people cannot pay to influence content.

Another massive issue comes when we consider someone from Newcastle, or Manchester, of Edinburgh. Are they expected to get drive, train or fly down to London to make the most of their Guardian membership? Once again, the media's London-centric attitude has let it down.


Still, on the whole, behind the Guardian's move is a concept rightfully heard all over the media: community engagement. Instead of blocking off their information from the public by forcing them to pay for it, they've encouraged people to form a community, offering different options for different purses whilst never alienating people from the public service that is journalism. 

The newspaper's status as a reliable source of information is its biggest attribute. The Guardian's move ensures that content remains free, whilst also giving the opportunity for closer links with readers who wish to financially invest in such a relationship. No walls; no barriers. Just as information should remain - but the jury's still out on whether it's sustainable.


  1. Despite the pouring rain storm, constant emails requesting changes, and nervous energy, these NY events guys delivered the most enchanting night.

  2. Hm... I would say that the more we become digital the less we want to meet others in real life. We are becoming like atoms. But I would share your point of view with me colleagues who work over secure dataroom . Thanks!