The New York Times announced today that Senior Vice President Martin Nisenholtz, 56, is retiring from the news organization at the end of this year. Niseholtz has been part of the Times’ digital strategy since its website launched in 1996.
In a memo announcing his retirement, Times publisher Arthur Sulzberger said that when Nisenholtz joined the company in 1995, “we had zero Web page views. Indeed, we had zero Web users. Further, we had no Web revenue. Today, thanks in large measure to Martin’s vision and leadership, our digital numbers are dramatically different.’ ”
This past year, Nisenholtz headed the effort to integrate paid digital content into the news organization’s subscriptions strategy. So far, that effort has appeared to be successful.
Here are a few highlights from the Nisenholtz years.
“I am not a dweeb at all,” insists NYTimes.com’s Nisenholtz, CBS MarketWatch (March 5, 2004):
If central casting ever needed to find the classic technology expert, it couldn’t do much better than Martin Nisenholtz. …
Bespectacled, lean, soft-spoken, intense and thoughtful, all he needs to complete the picture of Mister Technology is to wear a short-sleeve white shirt and have a slide rule dangling from his waist.
…Nisenholtz, 48 really is Mr. Tech – with two key exceptions, though.
“I am not a dweeb at all,” he said adamantly (in response to my earnest question). “I was a very good student, but I’m not a nerd.”
Nisenholtz: “Smart phones will, I predict, particularly change news delivery,” journalism.co.uk (Jan. 10, 2004)
Will new media overtake traditional media? New media couldn’t totally replace traditional media, but electronic delivery will become more and more important both for commerce and for the consumer. Smart phones will, I predict, particularly change news delivery. …
The Internet is the freest distribution system ever invented. The fact that NYTimes.com is read literally everywhere on earth is a miracle. We take the First Amendment very seriously here in the US and the web is the most important first amendment tool since the invention of language. It’s much more powerful than print as a distribution vehicle because it goes everywhere and it’s very difficult to stop.
Second, the web is much better than print at reader input. Take a look at movies.nytimes.com and you will see our readers helping one another find the best movies through a simple rate and review function.
Third, the web carries digital data regardless of its form. We can combine text, photography, graphics, audio and video in ways that no other medium can do. The best young journalists understand that this is a genuinely new form of expression.
Fourth, we are not constrained by newsprint, either in form or in the cost structure of the business. Speaking of movies.nytimes.com, we offer 5,000 film reviews.
Fifth, you can slice and dice content in almost unlimited ways. Through our NewsTracker service, for example, I can deliver to you all of the most relevant stories that we publish on a particular topic. This doesn’t negate the serendipity of our home page and section fronts; on the contrary, the service brings you things you might otherwise miss if you’re a busy person.
How the New York Times integrated its print and digital work, OJR (Aug. 9, 2005)
I think you have to go back to the beginning on this one, because it’s very important that everyone understand that from the outset we would have a single newsroom that was creating for both platforms. In 1995 or ’96, the practicality of that vision wasn’t realizable. You had a nascent medium, the user numbers were tiny, there weren’t real revenues in the business.
As we’ve progressed into this decade, a couple things have happened. One is we’ve seen a steady progression of usage and broadband penetration so we’re able to serve at NYTimes.com well over 10 million unique users per month. We also have the ability to create whole new forms of journalism that weren’t possible when we had a narrowband world.
The business and medium had to mature to the point where it made sense to do this and where it made sense culturally for the newsroom to accept it and get excited about it and produce for it. It’s been a dream for us [to integrate] from the very beginning, and when you have 1,200 of the smartest journalists in the world on your side, you really want to leverage that. So Bill Keller and I have an agreement that we’re going to put the full thrust of the New York Times newsroom behind this effort.
Nisenholtz: NYT turns slowly, but once it turns, look out!,Business 2.0 (Oct. 2, 2006)
For more than a decade, since he left Ameritech and joined the Times, no one has pushed harder for the company to embrace the Web and all its possibilities. The resistance he met was often stiff.
But now the Times is emerging as arguably the most Web-savvy newspaper outfit in America. And while it’s far too early to say how successful its online adventurousness will be – or whether it has the balls and vision to transition from a mainly print operation to a mainly digital one-there’s no doubt that the company is at least steaming in the right direction. “The Times is like a battleship,” Nisenholtz observes. “It turns very slowly, but once it turns, look out!”
Nisenholtz, 51, dates the turning point to early 2005, when, as he explains it, “the executive committee of the company created a strategy that said we’re in the business of convening communities here; we’re not just in the business of pushing information at people.” Behind that strategy, Nisenholtz adds, was a recognition of “the importance of the social Web – that the center of the universe is moving to our users, and that our users want to remix and use the content that we have in ways that are suitable to them.”
Thus began a dizzying flurry of Netcentric changes at the Times…
NYT’s Nisenholtz advises j-students to take biz courses, New York Times (March 8, 2009)
Fundamentally, the relationship between the business and editorial sides should respect the commercial independence of the journalism. There is a balance between the two sides that must be established. Beyond that, I have always found that the best relationships are founded on honesty, open communication and mutual respect. This is true online or off, and it’s fundamental to a successful working relationship.
With respect to skills, I advise journalists coming out of school today to take a programming course or two, at least. I also think it’s a good idea for journalists to have a basic understanding of business; after all, journalism is a business in the United States and journalists should understand the basics of the businesses they work for. Regarding entrepreneurial skills, the best way to learn them is to work in a startup or early-stage business. Talk to accomplished venture capitalists. Read some of the better venture capitalist blogs. Dive in.