There’s a lot of “content” floating around in media these days, but The New York Times wants no part of it.
Yes, it does podcasts, TV, custom brand advertising and written reportage, and is ramping up on all of those fronts. But in such a moment of “peak content,” as the paper’s critic-at-large Wesley Morris put it during this year’s NewFront presentation to advertisers, the Times is planning to keep producing only at the highest level it can.
“I hate the word,” publisher A.G. Sulzberger told Morris, the one who said he hated “content” first. “It is a useful word, but a useful word for junk — the junk you shovel onto YouTube and Facebook. What we do as journalists is fill a void. Content is cheap and that’s why the Internet has gravitated to it in a marketplace of shrinking margins.”
But do expect to see more of the Times as a brand and representations of its journalism than ever this year. A big part of this is the upcoming premiere of “The Weekly” on FX and Hulu, which will take a behind-the-scenes look at some of the paper’s investigative pieces. Sulzberger said it took time to get “The Weekly” up to the Times’ standards and that of all the arms of media the paper has expanded into in recent years, “TV has been the hardest.”
Nevertheless, the publisher sees the push into TV, which will also see series launched around other of the paper’s verticals, like “Modern Love,” as core to keeping consumers with the Times.
“Thinking in five years you’ll read news in one place, watch news in another, I think is a misunderstanding of where all the digital trends are leading us,” Sulzberger said. “I think people will have a strong relationship with a news provider.”
This is similar to the thinking around continued expansion of “The Daily” podcast, which just surpassed 2 million downloads a day and has been the most downloaded podcast for at least a year. It’s been building out the team — now 17 from an original four — and just hired its first international producer, who will be leading coverage of issues outside the U.S., where the Times has been eager to expand readership.
“We do have to plan for a world where Donald Trump is not president and not the news making machine he is,” said Michael Barbaro, host of “The Daily.”
Coming up is the show’s first trip abroad, to London, where Barbaro and team will spend a week “telling the story of populism.” Using “The Daily” to drive international subscriptions seems like a sure angle. Barbaro said ads for Times subscriptions that pop up in the middle of an episode have “a wonderful rate of conversion,” especially considering there is actually less and less overlap between “The Daily” listeners and Times’ subscribers. Another expansion is coming in Times reporting on data and privacy, which as chief operating officer Meredith Kopit Levien admitted, was “a fun conversation to have in a room full of marketers.”
But the Times is going beyond “content” this year, too. The paper will throw its first Food Festival in October, a weeklong event in Manhattan of food stalls, demonstrations and live talks that is expected to bring in 15,000 people. This is just the start of Times festivals, as global advertising head Sebastian Tomich admitted the food festival is only “the first step in this space.”
As for the Times’ efforts around advertising, which obviously have readers — that are about to get a lot more reporting on privacy concerns — at the core, the paper said it’s developed its own “suite” of tools to offer targeting to brands that does not include the tracking of a person’s search history.
Instead, Allison Murphy, vice president of ad innovation, said her team is now offering “prospective targeting” through an emotional index that’s been developed based on how Times stories make a reader “feel” as they read. An advertiser can now decide if they want a placement alongside a story that evokes happiness, love, hope, inspiration, and now in development is “motivation targeting,” something aimed at getting a reader to take an action — like buying something.
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