Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Insight: leaked NYT Innovation Report

So the management commissioned a team to look at innovation, specifically around "new media", at the New York Times. This report leaked and Nieman Journalism Lab has pulled out the key parts.

Here are some of the insights I found most interesting:

- "When it takes 20 months to build one thing, your skill set becomes less about innovation and more about navigating bureaucracy."

- The value of the homepage is decreasing. “Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending less time: page views and minutes spent per reader dropped by double-digit percentages last year.”

- Newsroom needs to get involved in the business side. No longer can journalists not be involved in pushing the product: "at The Times, discovery, promotion and engagement have been pushed to the margins, typically left to our business-side colleagues or handed to small teams... [the] newsroom needs to claim its seat at the table because packaging, promoting and sharing our journalism requires editorial oversight.”

- Need to approach the "new media" as software developers; build tools that scale: “We have a tendency to pour resources into big one-time projects and work through the one-time fixes needed to create them and overlook the less glamorous work of creating tools, templates and permanent fixes that cumulatively can have a bigger impact by saving our digital journalists time and elevating the whole report. We greatly undervalue replicability.” They point out that competitors like Vox and BuzzFeed view innovating with their platforms as a key function and allow them to create products like BuzzFeed’s quizzes — incredibly popular, but also easy to create over and over again.

- Need a stronger "big data" approach: “Without better tagging, we are hamstrung in our ability to allow readers to follow developing stories, discover nearby restaurants that we have reviewed or even have our photos show up on search engines.” And, "“Just adding structured data, for example, immediately increased traffic to our recipes from search engines by 52 percent."

- This is just dumb. so easy to fix: "Overall, less than 10 percent of Times traffic comes from social, compared to 60 percent at BuzzFeed."

- Comments sections suck: “Only one percent of readers write comments and only three percent of readers read comments. Our trusted-commenter system, which we hoped would increase engagement, includes just a few hundred readers.”

- Live events for media companies can be big, Atlantic's http://www.aspenideas.org/ was cited: “There is no reason that the space filled by TED Talks, with tickets costing $7,500, could not have been created by the Times. ‘One of our biggest concerns is that someone like The Times will start a real conference program,’ said a TED executive.”

- The age old creative and business dont mix: ‘Everyone is a little paranoid about being seen as too close to the business side.’

- Innovators Dilemma en route. The people with power and vested interests in the past kill innovation: In the triangle of business side, Reader Experience, and newsroom, the newsroom is often seen as defensive or risk averse. “One reason for our caution is that the newsroom tends to view questions through the lens of worst-case scenarios,” the report puts it. “And the newsroom has historically reacted defensively by watering down or blocking changes, prompting a phrase that echoes almost daily around the business side: ‘The newsroom would never allow that.’”

- Trying to find the innovators solution... The big question: How can the Times become more digital while still maintaining a print presence, and what has to change? “That means aggressively questioning many of our print-based traditions and their demands on our time, and determining which can be abandoned to free up resources for digital work.”

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