What can we learn from New York Times’ “Innovation” report?

In my last few blogs, I have focused on different aspects of the print audience. These audiences continue to be very important to media companies as they still generate the lion’s share of revenue.

Unfortunately, we must also face the inevitable truth that print is becoming a smaller piece of the audience pie. While we’ve known this for years, even now newspapers are struggling with developing strategies for reaching non-print audiences.

In March, The New York Times released a report meant to assess the state of digital innovation and audience at the media company. The report, called Innovation, pointed out that, while The New York Times does a wonderful job at journalism, it is falling behind the competition when it comes to news delivery.

Competitors such as The Washington Post, The Guardian, Vox Media, and Look Media are pulling ahead of The Times, according to the report, when it comes to growing online readership. (In fact, the report points out that often The Huffington Post gets more traffic from Times journalism than does The Times itself).

The report was the product of a task force of eight “of the most forward-thinking minds from around the newsroom” and two members of the strategy group. The team interviewed hundreds of employees and readers, and reviewed copious amounts of internal and industry data to come up with a workable (yet difficult) plan to reach an increasingly digital, increasingly fractured audience.

We can call learn from this report.

Now granted, The New York Times is not typical of the average daily newspaper (as a quick glance at their breakdown of print and digital audiences will tell you). Or as my publisher used to remind me, “We can’t all be The New York Times.”

Still, there are some very interesting findings and recommendations in the report that could be applied at newspaper of any size. 

The bulk of Innovation focuses on the immediate need for audience development tools. In fact, the No. 1 recommendation in the executive summary is: “Make developing our audience a core and urgent part of our mission.” 

The report discusses, in detail, the need for:

  • Discovery: How do we get our content to readers?

  • Promotion: How do we let them know?

  • Connection: What is the two-way channel that enables us to interact with our audience and them with us?

Again, these are the challenges facing all newspapers in their own local markets. The reality is that to really master this and manage it correctly requires a great deal of investment in digital talent, staff, management, and other resources.

Without the economy of revenue scale that larger media companies can command, it can make it very difficult for this to pay off for smaller properties in local markets.

Still the concept of blowing up the traditional news organisation is something media companies have known they need to do for years. The ideas in The New York Times report are not necessarily new, but reiterate what needs to happen for newspapers to survive.

The report concludes by making these final three recommendations: 

  1. De-emphasise print.

  2. Assess and address digital needs within the organisation.

  3. Figure out what needs to be done to truly become a digital-first organisation.

Again, these are issues that all newspapers will have to address to survive. And why is this important? Here are some numbers from the Pew Research Center to remind us: 

  • 71% of online adults use Facebook.

  • 18% of online adults use Twitter.

  • 17% use Instagram.

  • 21% us Pinterest.

  • 22% use LinkedIn.

  • YouTube has more than 1 billion unique visitors each month, reaching more U.Ss adults age 18-34 than any cable network.

This is why we all must “make developing our audience a core and urgent part of our mission” — because these are where our audiences are. 

As I look around the industry I see some very smart people doing wonderful things in a rapidly changing landscape. Still, I can’t help but feel that the industry continues to cling to a model of tradition and journalistic integrity that in many ways is outdated and is not keeping up with the rapidly changing ways in which media is consumed.

We continue to use digital media primarily as a means to support and drive traffic to our print product and to our Web sites rather than treating these as individual audiences to be developed and presented with unique content — not just news repurposed from the print product.

Most would consider The New York Times to be a leader at online innovation, yet their own task force identified online innovation as the area the company needs to work on most.

This should be a lesson for all of us.

The full report can be found here.

About Dan Johnson

By continuing to browse or by clicking ‘I ACCEPT,’ you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.