By Steve Outing
You’ve likely seen the “leaked” New York Times innovation-strategy report produced by an 8-member team of NYT employees, presumably for management and internal consumption. (The unabridged version appeared on the web, initially via Buzzfeed, just as executive editor Jill Abramson was getting fired last week — perhaps not coincidentally. The report is dated March 24, 2014.)
This is no PR piece; it’s a frank assessment by “some of the most forward thinking minds in the newsroom. … (The) team — with the help of two colleagues from the strategy group — included business, design, and business skills anchored to a rock-solid journalistic foundation.” The report is so frank about where the Times falls short in the transition to the digital age that what we saw probably would have been watered down if a version was released that was meant for outside-the-company publication.
After absorbing its 96 pages, the phrase that came to my mind to describe the Times was “myopic dinosaur.” That’s not the perception that I’ve had previously. Like most media watchers, I’ve considered the Times to be leading the way among newspaper companies, with a large staff of people devoted to reinventing the newspaper, creating new forms of groundbreaking multimedia storytelling (e.g., “Snowfall“), creating new digital product initiatives, etc. It built up departments for the digital age with top talent and plentiful resources: Design, Technology, Consumer Insight Group, R&D, and Product.
Alas, as the report reveals, an insular newsroom (rightfully) proud of its journalism, (wrongfully) hasn’t leveraged some of those operations because they are part of the “Business” side of the company. You know, the age-old “church and state” wall between Editorial and Business that shalt not be breached. Well, that was workable back in the day when newspapers were cash cows; it’s folly not to smartly and ethically collaborate in this era of newspapers’ continued spiral downward.
Many others have analyzed the NY Times Innovation report. Taking a different approach, in the Slideshare presentation below, I’ve pulled out some key excerpts from the report and added my commentary. It’s from the perspective of someone (me) who started a career in newspapers, then in the early-mid 1990s focused exclusively on the online (now “digital”) world and how newspapers and the news industry should adapt to the fast-coming “digital transformation.”
Let me say, after sharing those critical slides, that I love the New York Times as a news source; its journalism consistently is the best in the business. Indeed, the report’s authors praise their own organization for its ability to hold on to the highest-quality reporting and writing in spite of quite a few rough years for newspapers, including the Times, and the loss of much editorial talent to layoffs, buyouts, and departures to greener digital pastures.
Times journalism isn’t under fire (well, of course it’s far from perfect), but the report targets as “behind much of the competition” the digital presentation of it, the promotion of it, and the inadequate public engagement of the product and its journalists.
The full NYT Innovation report is below.