New York Times ‘Innovation Report’ Points Way to Digital Future
The leaked New York Times Innovation Report highlights the challenges it is facing in the digital age, but more importantly, it echoes the issues impacting the publishing industry as a whole. This report made waves not because the issues revealed were anything new, but because it shows even one of the best news organizations continues to struggle with managing the digital transition. While the leaked report included many intriguing details, the general idea is loud and clear: There is demand for digital solutions that shine a light on the aging newsroom and a paradigm shift is needed in editorial thinking.
The key to the digital world is to get the editorial team involved in audience development and other related technology decisions. The red herring that the leaked report points to is the attention paid by the editorial side on digital storytelling (e.g. Snow Fall). In our experience when talking to the editorial side of a publishing company, technology is only equated to storytelling formats (e.g. infographic, video and interactive diagrams). But when the conversation shifts to technology tools to help the business model of journalism, such as driving audience traffic and monetization, the editorial side of a news organization suddenly disappears from the conversation. This disappearing act causes the editorial side to be less informed and less able to defend their content decisions. But more importantly, the "boring" back-end technology can actually make them more impactful as journalists.
The New York Times hits the nail on the head regarding true data tagging coupled with analytics, which is key to building up a digital newsroom. By not investing in a technology that provides the baseline data foundation, The New York Times and other traditional news outlets are competing with a major handicap. This prevents them from curating content as well as their digital competitors, such as Buzzfeed, Gawker, and the Huffington Post.
The Discoverability Game
There is no question that The New York Times produces great content, but as the report points out, other digital entities often benefit from their coverage by "pickpocketing" the traffic through their agility in being the first source readers visit and then redirected to the actual article. In today's digital age when there is an inordinate deluge of content, discoverability is key. Readers now more than ever value good curation of the content to help cut through the noise, and the expectation that users will visit the homepage to see if there is interesting news is one of the least effective ways to cut through the clutter.
Push notification is one way of helping to ensure discoverability; however, if it was also married with reading behavior tags, news organizations could target these notifications so sports fanatics would get breaking news and sports updates, while travel aficionados will get the latest travel story with their breaking news. Additionally, if robust tagging systems could not only tag the topics but triangulate it with natural language processing and sentiment analysis, publishers would be able to get a richer idea of what to search engine optimize, and also identify which articles tend to rank high on other platforms like Facebook, Buzzfeed, etc. that can help drive traffic.
By building this foundational capability, news organizations can turn their content into digital ninjas, able to find their way into the right places at the right time for users to discover.
Robo-Editors or Bionic Editors?
The leaked report and its subsequent news coverage doesn't show journalism is in danger, but it does speak to the dynamic nature of working in the newsroom as an editor in today's digital world. If tagging, curation, and editorial content analysis are the future, the age of the editors calling the shots on what's newsworthy will certainly evolve. Data algorithms and "amateur humans," such as social network recommendations, are now becoming the professional editor in their own way. Do data-driven decisions about the front page, for example, devalue the editors' opinion based on years of experience in the business? The answer isn't actually black or white. In fact, the best case scenario is having a flexible technology that is able to integrate both. Imagine a scenario where the focus isn't on who decides what article shows up on the front page, but where data editors assign more impactful beats to their journalists to cover and that each individual journalist can track the lifetime value of their content, not just on the day that it was printed?
Uyen* Tieu is a cofounder and chief revenue officer of Rumble, a fully-integrated platform for news content providers to publish mobile content that has been working with news content producers since 2011 to create digital-mobile strategies. Prior to Rumble Tieu was the global head of ad sales strategy at Microsoft.