Those who do not understand the past…

are condemned to write bad newspaper articles about it.

Read this, from Ian Katz in The Guardian

Despite the huge success of its website over the last decade, the Guardian was a relative latecomer to the business of online news. While competitors such as the Daily Telegraph built efficient and well-used digital facsimiles of their print editions, the Guardian instead established a new media “skunkworks” team, tasked with dreaming up innovative online ideas, in an airy old warehouse just across the road from its main offices.

There a group of programmers and young journalists dabbled in a curious range of experimental projects from a wildly ambitious, multilingual website for Euro 96 to Shift Control, a webzine so painfully cool that every issue was redesigned from scratch. When, in 1997, Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger dispatched me across the road with instructions to redirect their efforts to building an online version of the Guardian itself, the team wore the despondent look of a bunch of German soldiers who had just been sent to the Eastern Front.

But though many of the hipsters soon departed, some of the lateral, webcentric spirit of the New Media Lab animated our plans for the online Guardian.

Then read this, from my ‘my life as a new media dog‘ on this very website

In early 1995 Tony Ageh of The Guardian suggested I join them there full-time to do Web stuff, having already made The Guardian the first UK national paper with any online content. In January 1996 Tony left to go to Virgin and I became head of the New Media Lab. I stayed until September 1996, having seen the successful launch of The Guardian site, The Observer site, GO2 (Guardian Online online), Top Marques online and the phenomenally wonderful, covering Euro ‘96.

At The Guardian we were convinced we could change the world of newspapers, We were playing around with design, navigation, content and approach, looking for ways to take the printed newspaper online while preserving the values and attitude that made it work: we were all about brand extension, not about being an income-generating business unit. This gave us a freedom that others could only marvel at – when Vauxhall gave us £250,000 to build a Website for the Euro ‘96 tournament I spent all of it on the best site in the world, drawing the wrath of my director, Stella Beaumont.

But I was right – the point was to spend the money and do something great, not feed 10% to The Guardian. Two years later, at the time of the World Cup in France, was still the benchmark for how to do a major sporting event on the Web.

I left The Guardian for many reasons, not least being the tension between the newsroom and its journalists and the Web team under my direction. Since leaving I can’t understand why I stayed as long as I did. My successor, Robin Hunt, lasted a matter of months. His successor, Ian Katz, threw away all the Guardian had learned, and it was left to Simon Waldman and Emily Bell to turn the experiment into a viable, brand-building proposition.

Funny how things can look different from different perspectives.

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