Top Takeaways from the Leaked New York Times Digital Strategy


Leaked New York Times Digital Strategy is a Wake Up Call

Much to the chagrin of my billing department @AgencyOasis (Agency Oasis) I spent most of this morning reading the entire 90+ page report leaked on Buzz Feed a few days ago written about and within the NY Times about their (lack of) Digital Strategy.

This report is worth a read by anyone who feels their organization is falling behind in the pursuit of a true digital goal and orienting strategy. And of course, anybody agency side.

I have had some lively discussions with colleagues and clients alike in past hours and days. It seems when one reads this, one focuses in on those things that fall within ones purview. My IA colleagues were most taken with the lack of tagging and taxonomy, my UX colleagues focused on opportunities for experience. My business focused colleagues went directly to the business model.

But here is where my eyebrows went up (for the first time)

Page 9

Six months ago, you asked A.G. Sulzberger to pull together some of the most forward-thinking minds from around the newsroom to develop smart, sound ways to lift our fortunes through our journalism. The eight-person team – with the help of two col- leagues from the strategy group – included digital, design and business skills anchored to a rock-solid journalistic foundation. We spent the first few months reporting.

Wait, what? Six months? Team of eight? First few months reporting? Sounds like a lot of fun; that was my first response. My second response, finally someone put their money where their mouth was. The idea that this team spent time engaged in a listening tour internally is the first take-away for any brand who is serious about making a difference in their organization. The idea that digital is going to be a bolt on to any organization is a myth, one this report should back in spades.

New York Times Digital StrategyI took way a few key messages from this report; they support my own assertions in the industry. I don’t portend to be neutral or without opinion.

1. If your business is going to survive, the operations are going to have to shift from what worked yesterday to what is needed tomorrow. (easier said than done)

Page 59

To become more of a digital-first newsroom, we have to look hard at our traditions and push our- selves in ways that make us uncomfortable. Too often we’ve made changes and then breathed sighs of relief, as if the challenge had been solved. But the pace of change is so fast that the solutions can quick- ly seem out of date, and the next challenge is just around the corner.

2. Splicing on new wiring isn’t the same as ensuring the electricity is working. If digital is a current, the wiring has to be sound.

Page 15

One of the largest chains of local newspapers in the United States, which tellingly renamed itself Digital First Media, announced Project Unbolt, explain- ing that its goal is “to take a massive wrench to the culture and work- flow of our newsrooms and unbolt them,” since “newsrooms are still largely print newsrooms with digi-tal operations ‘bolted on.’”

3. Where is digital, is technology. In a hub and spoke model of systems, the CMS remains the natural tool for organizational adoption.

Page 77

For example, our content-management system may be our single most important platform, since it structures our work in print, on the web and on mobile. But desks and producers spend countless hours on one-time fixes to the platform, rather than permanent solutions, even when it is clear the problems will emerge again and again.

4. This is a living breathing strategy and it isn’t set it and forget it. That mentality is what likely what got you where you are at today.

Page 26

And we should unleash the creativity of our staff by experimenting quickly and constantly to discover next-generation solutions.

5. Personalization (a key component to this document and a big question for many brands) is collaborative and not a science you simply put in motion.

Page 38

“It’s possible we’re using the entirely wrong algorithm,” said Boris Chen, a data scientist on The Times’s personalization team. But editors, he said, must help him understand what is wrong so he can create a better alternative.

6. Waiting is only going make it more complex, more expensive and more difficult.

Page 41

For example, because our recipes were never properly tagged by ingredients and cooking time, we floundered about for 15 years trying to figure out how to create a useful recipe database. We can do it now, but only after spending a huge sum to retroactively structure the data.

(May 20, 2014 update)

7. Knowing what to do in business means knowing how to leverage digital into your primary role. This was further confirmed with a quote in a Vanity Fair article by Sarah Ellison.

“But an editor today, Sulzberger said, has to have a different set of skills. Today’s editor has to have stellar journalistic skills “as well as managerial skills to be figuring out how to get the data to help us deliver news in a digital age.”


I think any brand who gets a hold of this report can learn a lot and take some of the tenants this team puts forth and apply them to their own organization. Marketers will be tempted to simply translate these learnings for their brand; resist that. Take the process The New York Times went through, to whatever degree your organization can afford, and repeat it. If you can’t achieve it on your own, trust a partner to do it with you, for you. In fact, an external partner can offer the advantage of being neutral and objective. The NYT’s team likely achieved a level of neutrality just based on the size of their organization and the spread of skills and resources the team was made from. Your business may not have that luxury. This is where an agency comes in handy.

And, sure, it can be frustrating from time to time. But hey, its also job security…

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