Internal NYT report could be valuable for other publishers mulling digital future

BuzzFeed | Quartz

BuzzFeed obtained most of an internal New York Times report that looks at how it is transforming to an age of digital journalism. (An abstract of the report has been available for about a week.)

The report has its uses for organizations with much fewer resources and reach than the Times: “The deep problems, the report says, are cultural, including a sense that the Times will simply be serve as a destination — leading to a neglect of social promotion,” Myles Tanzer writes. “One factor is an obsessive focus on the front page of the print paper, with reporters’ evaluated in their annual reviews on how many times they’ve made A1.”

Another problem: focusing on the homepage, to which traffic has declined steadily. As Zachary M. Seward writes on Quartz, “That’s not necessarily a reflection of any problems at the Times but the reality of how news is now distributed on the internet. Homepage traffic is declining at most news sites as readers increasingly find links to news articles from social media, email, and other sources.”

Indeed, the report says, “More readers expect us to find them on Twitter and Facebook, and through email and phone alerts. But the newsroom pays less attention to these platforms, even though they offer our main, and sometimes only, channels to tens of millions of readers.”

A screenshot of the report (click to view bigger)

The theme of potentially missed readership comes up again in a discussion of the Times’ “Invisible Child” series, which it presents as an example of botched promotion. At other outlets, promotion is part of the publication process. “By contrast, our approach is muted,” the report says.

After we spent a year producing a signature piece of journalism — the “Invisible Child” series — we alerted our marketing and PR colleagues too late for them to do any promotion ahead of time. The reporter didn’t tweet about it for two days. (Though the piece still had massive reach and impact, we don’t know how many more readers we could have attracted with additional effort.)

The report provides a field guide to the Times’ mostly digital competitors and suggests creating a newsroom strategy team “with the central role of advising the masthead.”

The team would keep newsroom leaders apprised of competitors’ strategies, changing technology and shifting reader behavior.

The Times could experiment more, it suggests, with efforts like collecting material and personalizing results by geolocation, for example. It also notes that a lot of the company’s digital efforts go toward one-offs rather than projects that can scale to everyday practices: “We greatly undervalue replicability,” it says.

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