Innovating at the New York Times
In March 2014, the New York Times produced a report titled “Innovation,” a fascinating internal study of the American news business in general and the Times in particular. The study (soon leaked on the Internet—download it here) candidly admitted that the paper’s readership was falling—including its audience online and on smartphone apps—and something needed to be done about it as a matter of urgency.
The fate of the New York Times is a concern for all of us. Whatever its flaws, the Times is the best newspaper in the world—if we judge it on the basis of the depth, breadth, and excellence of its reporting and commentary. Countless successful online media organizations are what they are today because they aggregate or pinch New York Times journalism. American democracy is suffering from the demise of legacy media institutions, and the fall of the Times would be an unbearable blow—an end to quality journalism as Americans know it.
The Innovation report made various recommendations to Times executives under the headings of “Growing Our Audience” and “Strengthening Our Newsroom.” One of the recommendations was for a belated but nonetheless revolutionary step: “Map a strategy to make the newsroom a truly digital-first organization.” Note the words: Digital-First.
The consensus seems to be that the paper is taking the recommendations very seriously. Arthur Gregg Sultzburger, who led the Innovation team and is the son of the Times’ publisher, has spent the past year heading the Newsroom Strategy team on digital transformation. He has now been promoted to associate editor of the Times.