It seems no other dead-tree newspaper has embraced the digital era as fully as the Guardian. Alan Rusbridger had great foresight in understanding the extent to which the internet was going to change news forever by investing early and widely in online. Critics would say that, with the largesse of the Scott Trust millions, and without the City or a proprietor breathing down their neck, it was far easier for the Guardian to spend millions on a loss-making activity than it would have been for, say, the Times or the Telegraph.
But, nevertheless, they did it, and have reaped the rewards by creating an audience far beyond their previous English left-of-centre constituency. Under their excellent Director of Digital Content, Emily Bell, (who has just left for a teaching post at Columbia) they've led the field in launching a well-presented series of podcasts (though, alas, they've just cancelled the fantastic Guardian Daily briefing). There are gems to be found covering football to politics, media to the environment and technology. One of the best is the Guardian Media USA podcast hosted by Internet guru Jeff Jarvis is the jewel in the crown in covering the convergence of technology and media. Among the broadsheets, they've also pioneered live blogging events - from the Brits to the Wimbledon final. And they've developed an amazing set of mobile applications that help propel the content out across various platforms - including the i-phone and the i-pad.
But it's the website itself that is their finest creation. Its white background with streaks of pink, green and blue has become the template for high-end newspaper websites (The Times redesign seemed to be lifted wholesale). It was also the first to create a five column grid of news stories which has again become the industry standard. What's perhaps most unusual is that even as other British newspapers have taken their content behind paywalls, the Guardian has opened up its content as much as possible, offering free access to more than 1 million archived articles and providing developers with the tools to build applications that remix the paper's extensive content base. Bell especially has been an advocate of the "Information Just Wants To Be Free" credo - even if it has caused some frictions at the top of the Guardian management - who are impatient to turn some of their huge traffic into revenue. But their strategy has paid off: the Guardian website made it into Time Magazine's top 100 websites in 2010.