Thinking Digital: What the NY Times Innovation Report Tells Us

Friday, June 27, 2014

There’s been a lot of buzz about the leaked NYT digital innovation report. And there should be.  The New York Times has long been an evolving publishing model to watch and learn from. The report is hefty, and there are numerous gems to help guide you in your strategy—but one lesson underlies it all: learning how to think digital is the key to success. The report is also valuable because it is candid:  The Times acknowledges that it is falling behind in reaching readers with what is arguably the broadest and most engaging reporting in the world.  

The takeaways?  There's an art and a science to getting content to readers.  It’s not always obvious and it’s definitely a process, but we must always be thinking creatively and striving to understand the mindset behind digital content consumption, so that we can be efficient and responsive to a rapidly shifting landscape.

Let’s look at a few points highlighting the Times' renewed focus:

Make Audience Development a Core Competency

Reaching your digital audience has as much to do with how your content is packaged and distributed as the content itself.   The Times is being overtaken by competitors who succeed because of reach; their ability to engage readers through social, search and community-building channels.  To move forward, publishers need to reevaluate traditional processes: 

  • The homepage doesn’t carry the clout of the front page. Historically, with printed content, the front page or cover is a necessary step in initiating engagement with what is inside. Online, that rule doesn’t apply. The Times is a case in point, with a shrinking percentage - now fewer than 1/3rd  - of their readers visiting the homepage.
  • Calling attention to content is paramount:  Doorstep delivery doesn’t actually involve a door or a step anymore. Social and mobile channels support greater interaction. NYT readers expect to be found on Twitter and Facebook and get email and phone alerts to news. They may still look for the Sunday paper, but they engage with it differently and less frequently than the daily digital content.

Twinkies not peaches: stories have a longer shelf life.

  • “At The New York Times, far too often for writers and editors the story is done when you hit publish.” That’s a key illustration of not thinking digital. Pushing a story forward is giving it life. That’s why social, mobile, events, forums, polls and contextual selling should be critical components of your strategy.
  • Having a plan for rolling out a big story, including leveraging multiple distribution channels, social media and your readers themselves, will ensure a longer life for your content. 
  • As Mashable pointed out, repurposing content and running with successful ideas will extend the life of your content and help reach an ever-expanding audience.

The Power of Data

  • Extracting value from archives has been a challenge at TheTimes—but something they invested in because of its potential return. Integrating all of your data into one CMS is the foundation for leveraging it to build readership.  Delivering the right content, based on reader preferences and history are the building blocks for engaging readers in a healthy interactive relationship.
  • Taxonomy tagging and reader feedback are proving to be a winning combination for understanding and building audience.

There are numerous highlights and lessons in this report. We'll share more in Part II of this post.