News from the newsroom: an interview with Aron Pilhofer

More than half of The Guardian’s readership chooses the online experience (The Guardian, 2012). That makes more than 6 million monthly web readers, against less than 5 million print readers. What would you do if you had to secure a profitable future to such newspaper? I suppose you would start to look at the potential of media rich content with great interest…

And this is what is happening. A small digital revolution has started since September at the Guardian: Aron Philhofer, ex New York Times associate managing editor for digital strategy, has been appointed Executive Director of digital for The Guardian. After having spent the summer looking for inspiration from several newsrooms, and particularly NPR‘s Visual team, Aron has decided to create Guardian Visuals, a team that will bring together the graphics desk, picture desk, interactive team and parts of the digital design and multimedia teams. “The problem when you have these kind of silos is that it’s hard to assemble teams that are cross-disciplinary,” he said, “and have the right combination of designers, developers, graphic artists, photographers” (, 2014).

But what will Guardian Visuals really do? What is the vision behind it? And also… does this mean that the Guardian is going to commission more interactive factual stories in the future? It is with this questions in mind that I interviewed Aron Pilhofer.

You’ll have to watch the video to lean more about Pilhofer’s vision, but I can summarize the points that I found salient:

1. Guardian Visuals is hiring: Helena Bengtsson, database editor, previously at Swedish broadcaster SVT, will join the team and Xoaquin Gonzalez Veira will be next. Although all of these people have met in a former life while working at the New York Times, Pilhofer assured me that there are six months of intensive hiring ahead of us.

2. Francesca Panetta, multimedia special projects editor at the Guardian, will very much be part of Visuals and will stay in charge of special features and interactive documentaries. On the other hand, Charlie Phillips, who recently moved from Sheffield Doc/Fest to become Head of Documentary at The Guardian, will not be part of Visuals – although they will collaborate.

3. Guardian Visuals has more than one mission:

– to unify multidisciplinary talents into a single product development team, so that a new style of digital journalism can emerge

– to educate journalists on how to incorporate data, data visualization and digital community in their daily practice

– to work towards a constancy of visual style in the next year

– to create a  distinct “Guardian style” for visual storytelling

– to use data analytics and user testing to understand what readers really want from their newspaper (for the UX side of things see another part of the interview with Pilhofer at my website

– in the long term, to use interactivity and social media to build a business model for the Guardian based on audience loyalty and membership.

Aron Pilhofer is indeed a digital pioneer: he revolutionized the New York Times’ digital output and now he is moving ahead making interactive factual the bread and butter of he newspaper of the future… The sentence that will stick to my mind for a while is: “Interactivity not only creates better and more efficient storytelling but, in the long-term, can drive business goals as well”. I definitively think he is right.