Guardian Reclaims America

“Because it’s a newspaper, we’ll be more full-service than blogs are,” Mr. Tomasky said. “We’re doing culture, and when a bridge collapses in Minneapolis we will cover that too, with the understanding that we’re not going to be the first site people go to find details.”

The new site’s lineage traces back to the fall of 2002 when Mr. Rusbridger first decided to put down roots in the U.S. in the form of a weekly glossy magazine.

The Guardian in America, as it was called in prototype, was to be edited by former New Yorker writer and Clinton speechwriter Sidney Blumenthal. Mr. Rusbridger had even secured a group of investors—among them Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner—but a breathless New York Magazine article and 96-page mock-up later, the project was derailed by soaring costs and a distracting newspaper war in London which forced Mr. Rusbridger to focus his attention on a major redesign of the Guardian’s print edition.

The magazine idea was officially put to rest in November 2003, and with that, the Guardian’s stateside expansion fell temporarily by the wayside.

Then, last spring, Mr. Rusbridger decided to try again, this time with a Web site instead of a print edition. He asked Michael Kinsley to head the operation.

Mr. Kinsley agreed to come on board, but after just two months of work—during which very little actually got done, Mr. Kinsley said—he received an offer from Time “so generous it would have been nuts not to take it.”

“Basically we treaded water for a few months and then I bailed,” Mr. Kinsley said.

Mr. Tomasky said it was around Christmas 2006 when he was asked to fill the vacant post. In February, a delegation of three editors from the Guardian, including Mr. Rusbridger, visited him in Washington, and the group met to talk about the site on two consecutive nights at the Jefferson Hotel. In March, Mr. Tomasky flew to London for further discussions, and shortly thereafter accepted the job.

Now, as the site prepares to go live, the only thing left is to see whether Americans actually want their own version of the Guardian or not.

“The preliminary question,” said Mr. Kinsley, “is do Americans go to the Guardian because it’s British? Do people go to the Guardian because they get this little frisson of international sophistication, which they will lose if it’s totally obvious that it’s coming out of Washington? That is a danger but, basically, people read the Guardian because it’s very good.”

“Maybe it won’t work, most stuff on the Internet doesn’t,” added Mr. Kinsley, who founded Slate.com in 1996. “But it’s worth a try.”

Mr. Tomasky, meanwhile, is confident that the new site will not only retain the Guardian’s American audience but grow it.

“Who’s the audience for this? I think it’s the kind of people who started going to the Guardian site in 2002 and 2003 to get a different perspective on Iraq,” Mr. Tomasky said. “They’re probably mostly liberal, they’re probably very well-informed. They probably have a broad range of interests across politics and culture, and they’re probably looking for something—how to put this?—that they feel comfortable with ideologically but that doesn’t just repeat back to them everything they know and everything they think.”