New York Times building Manhattan

The New York Times has rolled out a strategic report identifying initiatives for the coming year as it continues to evolve its business to the digital landscape.

In a report titled “Journalism That Stands Apart” by the 2020 group, which consists of seven Times journalists (David Leonhardt, Jon Galinsky, Jodi Rudoren, Karron Skog, Marc Lacey, Tom Giratikanon and Tyson Evans), the paper said it would invest $5 million toward coverage of President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration.

At the heart of the report is the need for the company to “reduce the dominant role that the print newspaper still plays,” while reinforcing the paper’s importance.

“Today, department heads and other coverage leaders must organize much of their day around print rhythms even as they find themselves gravitating toward digital journalism,” company said. “The current setup is holding back our ability to make further digital changes, and it is also starting to rob the newspaper of the attention it needs to become even better.”

The identification of the need for a cultural shift has already taken place in print-centric newsrooms, but making the leap is difficult, as the digital business model is not reaping the same revenue as print. According to a regulatory filing, the Times’ digital advertising revenue made up 31 percent of total advertising revenues and print made up 69 percent.
Still, digital is growing, and the Times noted that it brought in almost $500 million in digital revenue last year. In order to build up its digital report, the Times will focus more on visual journalism, hiring from outside and producing more features that readers want to read, such as service pieces.

“We devote a large amount of resources to stories that relatively few people read,” the report said. “The most poorly read stories, it turns out, are often the most ‘dutiful’ — incremental pieces, typically with minimal added context, without visuals and largely undifferentiated from the competition. They frequently do not clear the bar of journalism worth paying for, because similar versions are available free elsewhere. Our journalism must change to match, and anticipate, the habits, needs and desires of our readers, present and future.”

With about 200 published daily stories, the Times said its problem is many stories are “written in a dense, institutional language that fails to clarify important subjects and feels alien to younger readers.”

In short, the way it conceives of print stories isn’t working on the web.

It pointed to digital products it launched such as Cooking and Watching, as well as its acquisition of Wirecutter and the advent of Smarter Living.

In order to evolve the company, the Times said it must bring in journalists from other organizations, and train current reporters to gain new skills.

Although hiring journalists from the outside may be a priority, it should be noted that the company seems to endure buyouts every year in order to cut costs and right-size the staff. That need to cull while also grow the Times’ bench is tricky.

Still, the company said it wants to bring in journalists who “help us move away from traditional, print-focused roles and toward new, multimedia-focused roles, like senior visual journalists shaping both the form and content of coverage.”

Priority hires will be reporters, graphics editors and others who “make journalism.” (What else would they be making?)

Hiring diverse journalists is also important, as is examining the role of the freelancer. With a limited freelance budget, the Times said it is looking to capitalize on the work of its freelancers, which sometimes turns out to be the most read stories. It hopes to do that by allocating its budget more strategically. It will also work on newsroom synergies between product teams and editorial, as well as between reporters and editors.

That last bit is likely in response to an internal newsroom survey, in which one journalist characterized the editing process in the following way:

“Every story feels like a fire hydrant — it gets passed from dog to dog, and no one can let it go by without changing a few words.”