The leaked New York Times report

Have you seen the leaked New York Times innovation report? Even if you are not a news junkie passionately interested in the media, you should take a look at the report embedded here.

The Full New York Times Innovation Report

It talks about changes in technology and how it is affecting our lives. It explains what disruption is, something that is shaking up almost every industry, and why it happens by talking about a gadget almost all of us now use – the camera phone. It didn’t develop overnight. The report says:

Disruption is a predictable pattern across many industries in which fledgling companies use new tech-nology to offer cheaper and inferior alternatives to products sold by established players (think Toyota taking on Detroit decades ago). Today, a pack of news startups are hoping to “disrupt” our industry by attacking the strongest incumbent — The New  York Times. How does disruption work? Should we be defending our position, or disrupting ourselves? And can’t we just dismiss the BuzzFeeds of the world, with their listicles and cat videos?

And then it talks about cameras and phones. It recalls:

Kodak and its film-based cameras were the classic incumbents: a traditional, respected company offer-ing a high-quality product to a mass market. Then came digital cameras. Film companies laughed at the poor shutter speed and fuzzy images of early digital cameras. The photos weren’t great, but digital cameras better addressed the user’s primary need: to capture and share moments. It was easier and cheaper to take a digital picture, download it onto your computer and email it to many people than it was to buy film, print dozens of high quality photos at a shop and mail copies to friends. When the inferior and cheaper digital product became “good enough” for customers, it disrupted the incumbent. Digital cameras seemed poised to own the market. Then came flip-phone cameras. They offered even lower quality photos. And digital camera companies mocked their grainy images. But again, users opted for a lesser product that was more convenient. They’d rather have a “good enough” camera in their phone then lug a better but bulky digital camera. When the flip-phone camera became “good enough,” it disrupted the incumbent.

The report says:

The New York Times is winning at journalism… Our daily report is deep, broad, smart and engaging— and we’ve got a huge lead over the competition. At the same time, we are falling behind in a second critical area: the art and science of getting our journalism to readers…This is where our competitors are pushing ahead of us. The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal have announced aggressive moves in recent months to remake themselves for this age. First Look Media and Vox Media are creating newsrooms custom-built for digital. The Guardian and USA Today have embraced emerging best practices that have helped grow readership. And Huffington Post and Flipboard often get more traffic from Times journalism than we do.In contrast, over the last year The Times has watched readership fall significantly. Not only is the audience on our website shrinking but our audience on our smartphone apps has dipped, an extremely worrying sign on a growing platform.

Embarrassment of riches

The New York Times suffers from an embarrassment of riches. The report says:

The Times produces more than 300 URLs every day. Because of this bounty, readers easily miss stories and features. This has long been true for readers who come to our home page, because of limited real estate and constantly shifting presentation. This is also true on our mobile apps, where a tiny screen makes it even harder to sift through our offerings. [There are] readers who don’t come to us at all — and instead expect us to reach them through social media and our alerts…We need to make better use of these tools… One great example of the power of a new tool for connecting with readers is our news alert system, which now reaches as many as 13.5 million people, about a dozen times our print subscriber base.

The report suggests ways in which The New York Times could exploit its abundance of content.

As of the printing of this report, we have 14,723,933 articles, dating back to 1851, that can be resurfaced in useful or timely ways. But we rarely think to mine our archive, largely because we are so focused on news and new features.

Arts and culture stories were among those that were consistently read long after their publication dates, even though they can be difficult to find once they are more than a few days old. A new approach would be to take cultural and life-style content — about books, museums, food, theatre — and organize it more by relevance than by publication date.

The report notes that “personalization offers countless opportunities to surface content in smarter ways”. It says:

We’ve heard time and again that younger readers are moving away from browsing and that they increasingly expect news to come to them, on social, through alerts and through personalization. There is a sense that “if something is important, it will find me.” We are far behind in adjusting to these trends. We could create a “follow” button that offers readers a variety of ways to curate and receive their own news feeds, ensuring they never miss a Modern Love or Maureen Dowd column. With a single click, their favorite topics, features and writers could automatically be collected in a Following Inbox. We could also offer readers the opportunity to have alerts about new stories sent to their phone or email.

Such “following” features have been critical to the success of YouTube, Spotify and Twitter. But increasingly Circa, Breaking News, The Verge and other digital outlets are doing this with news.

The New York Times has also fallen behind The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal and others in tagging, which is useful not only for Facebook photos. As the report says:

In the digital world, tagging is a type of structured data — the information that allows things to be searched and sorted and made useful for analysis and innovation. Some of the most successful Internet companies, including Netflix, Facebook and Pandora, have so much structured data — by tagging dozens or even hundreds of different elements of every movie, song and article — that they have turned the science of surfacing the right piece of content at the right time into the core of thriving businesses.

The report says:

Without better tagging, we are hamstrung in our ability to allow readers to follow developing stories, discover nearby restaurants that we have reviewed or even have our photos show up on search engines.

It adds:

Our competitors are a full step ahead of us in using structured data. The Washington Post and The  Wall Street Journal use it for insight into how readers are using their websites.

The report also calls for better use of social media.

But with less than 10 percent of our digital traffic coming to us through social media we are still figuring out how to best engage readers.

The percentage of readers who visit BuzzFeed through social, for example, is more than six times greater than at The Times.

The New York Times has 1.25 million print subscribers, 760,000 digital subscribers, 5.7 million Facebook followers and 11.3 million Twitter followers, according to the report.

The New York Times print and digital audience
The New York Times print and digital audience