When it comes to digital media The Guardian is certainly adventurous. Indeed, behind those doors at King's Place there's a policy/philosophy called 'digital first' - essentially a prioritisation of the newspaper's online activity, from podcasts to blogs, over the print edition. This could be considered very prescient in a rapidly changing market, although whether giving away your content on a website is a smart business model, remains to be seen. Especially when the paper is losing around £100,000 a week.
The Guardian's precarious financial position doesn't appear to be holding back its enthusiasm for surprising expeditions into the digital wilderness, though. This week, they opened the doors of Guardiancoffee, described as ‘a single site operation which is both a coffee shop and a space for journalists to work in’ (shouldn't that be '... in which to work'?).
Inevitably this 'data driven' cafe (yes, they really do call it that) is in Shoreditch - Box Park, to be precise. Having recently spent some time in this neck of the woods, I can't really see the appeal - very sterile, knowing and expensive - but The Guardian is pretty obsessed with the area. I can't help thinking it would have been genuinely radical to open the joint in Rotherham, but even The Guardian isn't that leftfield. So, London E1 is the new destination for writers, creatives and media groupies in need of some juice for their iPhone. The emphasis at Guardiancoffee is very much on the use of fancy electric devices and ensuring your kit is made by Apple is probably essential, if you want to avoid sympathetic, withering looks. As you may have gathered, this is all designed to be a very hip experience. But what makes it 'data driven' as opposed to 'a lot like Starbucks' driven?
Primarily, it's all about a massive screen in the main room. By all accounts, it displays a stream of scintillating information about coffee farming and incoming tweets using the hashtag #guardiancoffee. All the tweets are flattering, which is interesting as I've seen a fair few mocking messages in that timeline. Censorship at The Guardian? Surely not.
And I guess there's free wi-fi, so y'know, that's digital too, right?
In fairness, a cafe run by a newspaper isn't necessarily anything to get upset about. If the left-wing, liberal press wish to serve hot beverages (£2.50 for a single espresso), who are we to stop them? The problem is, this is just the sort of thing those who moan about The Guardian seize upon. The concept is so Guardianesque, it could easily be part of a missing scene from The Day Today. Really, the stuffy, centre-right commentators are t going to have an absolute ball with this. On a more serious note, if you were one of the many editorial staff laid off by the paper recently, you'd be right to wonder how many salaries it took to get this place off the ground. Especially if you spotted the 'retail operations manager' of Guardiancoffee is earning up to £30,000 year.
It's no secret the newspaper industry must re-invent itself if it is to survive in a meaningful way. Some publications, including the Evening Standard and Manchester Evening News, have opted to be free to the reader; others have launched fresh titles to gain market share. The Independent has been particularly successful with the 'i', a mini-version of the main paper. However, before The Guardian, no paper has chanced a move into catering.
In truth, I love The Guardian. As a child, it appeared in the house every day and I have read it throughout my adult life (excluding a brief flirtation with the aforementioned Independent). But that doesn't place the title above scrutiny or criticism. In an era when the press is fighting for credibility and sales, I have no hesitation in suggesting this is a frivolous, pointless and largely pretentious venture.
Magnus Shaw is a blogger, copywriter and consultant