Excerpts and commentary/analysis on the New York Times' Innovation 2014 report, by Steve Outing, media futurist/digital-news consultant/journalist at MediaDisruptus.com
Text of NY Times Innovation report highlights and lowlights
H I G H L I G H T S & L O W L I G H T S O F T H E N E W Y O R K T I M E S I N N O VAT I O N S T R AT E G Y, 2 0 1 4 C O M M E N TA RY B Y S T E V E O U T I N G H T T P : / / M E D I A D I S R U P T U S . C O M
A P R E S C R I P T I O N F O R N E W S PA P E R S D I S A P P O I N T I N G R E A L I T Y C H E C K : S TAT E O F T H E N Y T I M E S A N D D I G I TA L The news industry is privileged to get a look at an important document one that probably wasnt meant to be distributed widely in unabridged form. A team of some of the most forward thinking minds in the New York Times newsroom recently produced a frank assessment of where the company is at as it attempts to transition from a print-focused to a digital-first media enterprise. ! Their Innovation 2014 report is sobering: How could the news organization that most media watchers believed was at the top of the class of newspapers in making the digital transition still be so off base? But the report also is wonderful! Its recommendations should guide many news organizations in the years ahead. ! On the following slides, Ive pulled some key excerpts from the report and accompanied them with my thoughts. ! Steve Outing Media futurist, digital-news consultant, journalist | Boulder CO, USA
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 2 3 ) : W R I T E T H E N E W S & T H E Y M AY N O T C O M E Most of us in the news business look to the New York Times as the leader, the one organization with the resources to not only produce the highest-quality journalism, but also to show the way to less well-heeled news organizations when it comes to adapting to the digital transformation of media. That digital audience development is weak at NYT and therefore probably at most lesser newspaper companies helps explain why newspaper websites traditionally have trouble getting visitors to use their sites for more than just a few minutes per month.
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 4 1 ) : FA I L U R E O N S T R U C T U R E D D ATA This is a major oversight which has been neglected for years! Even a decade ago, news organizations were being advised to add important metadata to all of their content. As smartphones got into more peoples hands, it also was apparent that geo-tagging as much content as possible was critical for news organizations in order to deliver geographically relevant news. If even the NY Times is flubbing this in 2014 just, wow. Thats sad.
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 4 3 ) : T O O P R O U D T O P R O M O T E ? The report indicates that this type of problem is largely the result of reluctance of the NYT newsroom to interact and work closely with other departments on the business side of the company departments that could, if fully allowed, increase visibility of NYT editorial content in a big way!
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 4 5 ) : D Y S F U N C T I O N A L S O C I A L - M E D I A S T R AT E G Y This is a rookie mistake. Its not what youd expect from arguably the worlds best newspaper. As is made clear throughout the report, a newsroom culture that still largely venerates the print edition of the Times over all things digital led to newsroom leaders underrating the importance of basic digital-publishing tenets such as having a strong social-media strategy. Its easy to see, then, why digital- native news sites like HuffingtonPost and Buzzfeed now have larger audiences than the New York Times; those sites excel at taking advantage of social media.
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 4 9 ) : A N U N W I L L I N G N E S S T O E N G A G E This has been a blind spot for NYT for as long as I can remember. The thinking: Lets not let the world-class quality of Times staff content be sullied by allowing lesser-quality user content to appear on the same website (even if it is made abundantly clear where the outside words come from). A better way to approachuser content is, as suggested by the report authors, to leverage an above-average, intelligent audience and make the digital NY Times the home of the BEST user contributions and discussions to be found anywhere. I, for one, would LOVE to discover an intelligent, news-oriented interactive community. (You wont find that on CNN.com, or ABCNews.com, or )
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 5 2 ) : W H E R E A R E T H E W O R D S O F T H E E X P E R T S ? Yes! Yes! Yes! I think about all the academics doing groundbreaking research, much of it of interest to an intelligent readership, but who write in dense academic style to an audience of fellow academics, often only in the dozens, perhaps hundreds. Open up to these experts, and other researchers in government and business, by offering an opportunity for them to write in plain English and explain their work, their findings, their ideas, in ways that are understandable to a large audience of jargon-impaired readers who would love to know about and discuss research at the bleeding edge. Some of us would love to hear directly from, say, star athletes, rather than from a journalist parsing the athletes words. And wed appreciate the opportunity, via the media brand, to communicate and engage with such non-journalist experts.
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 5 8 ) : I G N O R A N C E O F T H E PA C E O F C H A N G E This is the crux of the problem not just at the New York Times, but at most other newspaper companies (indeed, at most news enterprises on any platform). If theres one thing that news companies should instill in the brains of their managers and workforce (and that journalism educators need to beat into the heads of students with a 2 x 4, metaphorically speaking!), its that the future will continue to bring change at an increasingly accelerating pace. When one challenge is done, be ready to take on the next one that just appeared with the release of some new technology breakthrough. Can newspapers companies do this? I have doubts.
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 6 0 ) : B R E A K D O W N T H I S WA L L ! This reminds me of when, many years ago, I worked in the Design & Infographics department of a major newspaper. Our work was important, and I think appreciated by most editors, but the newsroom still had a long way to go in terms of working closely and efficiently with us. Last-minute rush jobs; not being included in editorial planning other than for major projects; etc. Its the same dynamic here, where new departments which are critical to a news operation in the digital age are not yet afforded access to nor given the respect of the newsroom, which still maintains a culture of being the crown jewels of the operation. Thats got to stop, or more newspapers will die or become irrelevant.
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 6 4 ) : C O M M U N I C AT O R S D O N T C O M M U N I C AT E Houston, we have a problem. This is simply old ways of thinking, which have outlived their relevance, hanging on. Cultural change is needed, and obviously since its still a problem, super-strong leadership will be required. Funny, isnt it, how news organizations often are among the worst at internal communication?!
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 6 8 ) : D E V E L O P E R S C A N T J O I N T H E C L U B ? ! [Sound of commentator banging head against wall.] Developers should be partners with the newsroom; they should be PART of the newsroom, working alongside reporters, editors, graphics and design folks, photographers. Take a clue from the Knight-Mozilla Fellowships program, which embeds talented developers with an interest in news into host newsrooms for 10 months. The anecdote above probably explains why this story appeared today, about digital talent losses at the NY Times, from Quartz: Heres what left of the team trying to save the New York Times.
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 7 2 ) : F E E D I N G T H E B E A S T & P U T T I N G O F F F U T U R E This is why Im pessimistic that very many newspaper companies will survive the coming years (unless theyre so bold as to kill their print editions). Without all newsroom leaders and managers thinking ahead, needed cultural change is all but impossible. Staff dedicated to future strategy cant do it alone; this is for everyone.
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 8 1 ) : T H I N K I N G S H O R T T E R M = FA I L Its a bit surprising to find such an obvious statement in a report to the leaders of the New York Times. Its great advice, of course; it was great advice five years ago, and even earlier. The reports authors have made the case for going digital first. If NYT management doesnt take it seriously this time, and ACT, then we can watch the NYT brand decline as the operation suffers from continuing declines in print revenues; and lack of digital-centric strategy will mean that digital revenues wont grow as fast as necessary for a high-quality news entity like NYT to survive.
P R O B L E M ( PA G E 8 6 ) : S O M E H O W, P R I N T S P O W E R H A N G S O N Great advice! But can (publisher) Arthur Sulzberger Jr. and (executive editor) Dean Baquet (finally!) be bold enough to turn minds in their newsroom to digital first? Its rare that incumbents can pull off such a cu