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Screw innovation, the New York Times need to focus on TBD

The New York Times Innovation Report has been ripped to pieces by many brains in the media world but the issues are the familiar TBD framework I work with, namely Technology (can/does it do what is needed?), Behaviour (will people do what we need/want?) and Data (will enough people do what we need?).

After ploughing through it, despite a slightly depressing overtone, I am confident the New York Times will pull through…the industry can’t afford it not to (read: have an R&D budget). The very fact it is doing a report of this sort (especially considering who asked for it) means they are focusing and clear about their future problems – success therefore is predicated on hard decisions being made about some very core issues (staff etc).

A few things stood out when I read the report:

1. Technology

News continues to be an experience that needs personalisation and yet many are failing at this whether it be human or algorithmic in nature. New apps are eating NYTs lunch because they focus on the UX and UI and less about the story. In essence, the future of news needs to be two fold; fast version and detailed version. In this world, Circa may have the upper hand. Copy them and copy fast.

Video was also pretty unrepresented in the report. This is a key area for all news outlets to improve on. Most fail at the first hurdle and over brand or create a product that is too long and unfocused. Wibbitz could be the future here. Currently being trialled by several news outlets I would look closely at this startup and take a lot of lessons.

2. Behaviour

Fix the procedure not the employee. Throughout the report, we see references to unwilling staff, decisions made without data, lack of training…the list goes on. In essence, these are things that can be fixed.

I refuse to accept all journalists should be made to “do” social media — focus people on their strengths. Plug the gaps — currently NYT (and myriad others in the business/media industries) are missing this trick. Let the creators create and then let the distributors distribute. Who said, everyone should do everything?

Focus on the reader. While it’s clear the NYT understands its current consumer I am not convinced it knows its future one. A quick search within the document is revealing; zero mentions on psychology, 15 mentions on behaviour, one mention of UX.

The future of NYT is not its Snowfall product, even if it could make it quick to create for employees — people don’t have the time every day. Instead a greater focus on when and how they are reading would be better. For evidence of this desire, look no further than Twitter — the number of followers doubles the print circulation.

3. Data

Whilst a clear standpoint on journalism is clearly what the NYT clings onto, an understanding of the data surrounding consumption must be paramount. It’s time for the NYT to get scrappy and (gulp) go after traffic like Buzzfeed and co. do…voraciously. Being best is nice but being read is just as important or…what’s the point?

Hat Tip: @mediagazer

Author | Paul Armstrong

Paul Armstrong
Paul Armstrong runs HERE/FORTH an advisory that helps business leaders decide how to best use rapidly changing and emerging technologies. More