Media Headliner: Why Brooks relishes giving GNM a global reach

Tim Brooks is well aware of the need to maintain standards when expanding the Guardian brand overseas, Ian Darby writes.

Events have moved at whirlwind pace since Tim Brooks was appointed the managing director of Guardian News & Media almost two years ago. Most of these were planned, others were about as welcome as Max Mosley at Rupert Murdoch's summer party.

In August 2006, Brooks was announced in the role, fending off competition from the internal favourite Stuart Taylor to replace Carolyn McCall, who had stepped up to become the chief executive of Guardian Media Group. Since then, Brooks has been faced with initiating a wholescale review of GNM's commercial and editorial structures alongside large investment in its online offering and a move into overseas markets.

Brooks, who joined GNM from IPC Media, where he was the managing director of its ignite! division, says he's enjoying the challenge of his dream job: "I wasn't looking to leave IPC, but I'd read The Guardian and The Observer since I was a lad, so it was the chance to combine my skills with a real passion."

He adds: "I think it's fair to say that Carolyn hired me because I'd been used to managing change. She had the feeling that GNM was about to go through an unprecedented amount of change, so needed somebody from outside to lead that - and the business has changed a lot."

During the past year or so, GNM has conducted a review looking at the shape of its workforce as it moves towards integration of its online, Guardian and Observer sales and editorial teams (the commercial restructure is completed but the editorial restructure, headed by the editor-in-chief, Alan Rusbridger, is likely to kick into full effect by the end of the year when GNM moves into new offices near King's Cross).

This has involved some pain, with 100 redundancies from a total staff of 1,700. However, Brooks says that it has hired close to that number to populate the digital sides of the business, resulting in little overall change in headcount.

The result, Brooks will hope, is a more streamlined operation designed to distribute news and other content around the clock, providing greater opportunity for advertisers and a better service for readers. A key plank of this has been GNM's £19 million investment in what it calls "R2", the new generation platform for its Guardian Unlimited web content. It allows for stronger video content and better aggregation of content around each user and most sections of the site have now been relaunched on the back of this. Early signs are encouraging with ABCe data for June showing that guardian.co.uk was the first UK newspaper site to reach more than 20 million monthly unique users.

While GNM leads the way in terms of UK unique users (although telegraph.co.uk and dailymail.co.uk are providing stiff competition), it also has the highest level of daily unique global users, with more than one million visiting the site each day. This increasing internationalisation of the brand is very much part of Brooks' agenda and it is looking to grow its offering of specialist content to overseas audiences, hence the recent acquisition of ContentNext, a US companys that offers entertainment and technology content.

Brooks says that there will be more developments in overseas markets, especially in building its education, public sector and environmental coverage. However, this is just as likely to be handled by key people hired by GNM as through acquisition. Last week, for instance, it appointed Caroline Little, the former chief executive and publisher of the digital division of The Washington Post. As Brooks says: "At our core, we provide news and content and are world class at it. So why buy when you can hire and send someone out to do the job?"

Although the decision to push the button on the Berliner formats of its papers was made long before Brooks' arrival (The Guardian changed format in September 2005 and The Observer the following January), Brooks argues that the titles have continued to defy their critics and have justified the investment of more than £100 million in new printing presses. GNM's trust structure allows other parts of the group to subsidise its activity (in 2007, GNM made a loss of £15.9 million), but Brooks argues that, despite a grim outlook for newspapers generally, the titles compete keenly in commercial terms: "Our market share of paid-for copies has increased and The Observer is the best-performing Sunday newspaper of any kind."

In a tough newspaper market, changes to The Observer under Rusbridger and its new editor, John Mulholland, seem to be paying off. Its June sales rose 0.5 per cent to 453,757, in a market where the majority of titles are on the slide. But it hasn't all been smiles lately. Tesco's case for libel and malicious falsehood against GNM over allegations about Tesco's tax affairs has been a drawn-out saga that has seen GNM admit to mistakes in the detail of the story and publish an apology.

However, Brooks defends the decision to publish and says that the case will not change The Guardian ethos: "Our track record is of never shirking from publishing difficult stories. We made mistakes with the Tesco report which we have already apologised for, but the idea that making a mistake would temper our journalism in the future is absolutely wrong."

THE LOWDOWN
Age: 50
Lives: Harpenden, Hertfordshire
Family: Wife Ann; stepson Jac (24); daughter Bella (14) and son Bill
(11)
Most treasured possession: Good health
Interests outside work: Reading, music, art, Arsenal Football Club
Last book you read: Running with Scissors by Augesten Burroughs