Auch die «New York Times» kocht nur mit Wasser

Da dachten wir doch alle, die «New York Times» hätte das mit dem Digitalen voll im Griff, und nun lesen wir im ursprünglich nur für den internen Gebrauch bestimmten «Innovation»-Report (PDF) der Grey Lady:

[…] over the last year The [New York] 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. [S. 3]

oder:

Stories [für die gedruckte Ausgabe] are typically filed late in the day. Our mobile apps are organized by print sections. Desks meticulously lay out their sections but spend little time thinking about social strategies. Traditional reporting skills are the top priority in hiring and promotion. The habits and traditions built over a century and a half of putting out the paper are a powerful, conservative force as we transition to digital — none more so than the gravitational pull of Page One. [S. 7]

Dies nur zwei Feststellungen aus dem 96-seitigen Bericht, für den acht, meist jüngere «New York Times»-Mitarbeiter − «some of the most forward-thinking minds from around the newsroom» − für rund sechs Monaten freigestellt wurden, um den Kolleginnen und Kollegen, vor allem aber auch der Redaktionsleitung und dem Management den Spiegel vorzuhalten:

We spent the first few months reporting. We went on a listening tour of the business side, we met with hundreds of employees from around the newsroom, we interviewed leaders at dozens of other news organizations and spent time with readers. We pored over internal analytics, studied competing web sites, and read more reports, presentations and articles about changes in digital media than we can count. In effect, we did a deep-dive reporting project on our own paper and industry. By the end, we had a strong sense of both the opportunities and internal roadblocks that need to be addressed to thrive in a rapidly changing digital media landscape. [S. 8]

Gerade älteren Online-Mitstreitern dürften viele der im «Innovation»-Report erwähnten «roadblocks» nicht ganz unbekannt vorkommen — oder wie Mark Potts es in der «American Journalism Review» formuliert:

For those of us battle-scarred on the front lines of the digital news wars, the Times report was rife with passages that could have described newsrooms we’ve worked in.

Nachfolgend ein paar Auszüge aus dem gut lesbaren Bericht (verbunden mit der Hoffnung, dass die längeren Zitate gerade noch als «Fair Use» durchgehen mögen):

Long ago, we decided to go to extraordinary lengths to get our journalism into the hands of as many readers as possible. Each night, we printed our best work. Then we loaded it onto trucks to drive it to cities and towns. Then we enlisted kids to bike from house to house to deliver our papers to readers‘ doorsteps. For nonsubscribers, we dropped off bundles of papers at corner stores and newspaper racks, and painstakingly tracked sales to see where more copies were needed. […] But when the time came to put our journalism on the web, we adopted a much more passive approach. We published stories on our home page and assumed that most people would come to us. […] This effort to reach more readers — known as Audience Development — is where our competitors are pushing ahead of us. [S. 23]

Traffic to the home page has been declining, month after month, for years. Traffic to section fronts is negligible. Traffic on our mobile apps, which are mostly downstream replicas of our home page and section fronts, has declined as well. [S. 27]

NYT-Innovation_Report_Homepage
Quelle: «Innovation»-Report, S. 23

„The hardest part for me has been the realization that you don’t automatically get an audience,“ said Janine Gibson, editor-in-chief of The Guardian’s website. „For someone with a print background, you’re accustomed to the fact that if it makes the editor’s cut — gets into the paper — you’re going to find an audience. It’s entirely the other way around as a digital journalist. The realization that you have to go find your audience — they’re not going to just come and read it — has been transformative.“ [S. 24]

But at The Times, discovery, promotion and engagement have been pushed to the margins, typically left to our business-side colleagues or handed to small teams in the newsroom. The business side still has a major role to play, but the newsroom needs to claim its seat at the table because packaging, promoting and sharing our journalism requires editorial oversight. [S. 25]

Daten strukturieren

[…] we still ask too much of readers — they must navigate a website and apps that are modeled on our print structure. We need to think more about resurfacing evergreen content, organizing and packaging our work in more useful ways and pushing relevant content to readers. And to power these efforts, we should invest more in the unglamorous but essential work of tagging and structuring data. [S. 26]

A century ago, The Times began the laborious process of identifying and tagging the major and minor topics and characters of every story it produced. Each year, it compiled these listings in the massive „New York Times Index,“ the only complete index of a U.S. newspaper. […]

The many opportunities described in this report — and others that will only become clear over time — require us to focus on this humble art we helped pioneer, which we still call „tagging.“ 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. […]

The Times, however, hasn’t updated its structured data to meet the changing demands of our digital age and is falling far behind as a result. 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. […]

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. […]

We must expand the structured data we create, which is still defined by the needs of the Times Index rather than our modern digital capabilities. For example, at a time when nearly 60 percent of our readers access us via mobile devices, we are missing an opportunity to serve up content that’s relevant to their locations because we are not tagging stories with geographic coordinates. [S. 42]

Unbundling und Repackaging

Readers who visit our site for the first time naturally might assume that if they click on „New York,“ they’re likely to find restaurant reviews, theater reviews, local sports coverage, museum coverage or real estate coverage. That assumption would be wrong, of course. This is but one example of the many opportunities we have for repackaging our content so that it’s more useful, relevant and shareable for readers. [S. 33]

Nützliche Tools statt «grosse Kisten»

The surprising popularity of The Times dialect quiz — the most popular piece of content in the paper’s history, with more than 21 million page views — prompted weeks of internal discussions about ways to build on that remarkable success. But over at BuzzFeed, they were busy perfecting a template so they could pump out quiz after quiz after quiz. […]

This contrast helps illustrate one of the biggest obstacles to our digital success. We have a tendency to pour resources into big one-time projects and work through the one-time fixes needed to create them, and overlook the less glamorous work of creating tools, templates and permanent fixes that cumulatively can have a bigger impact by saving our digital journalists time […] We greatly undervalue replicability.

Driven in part by the success of Snowfall, we have gone to extraordinary lengths in recent years to support huge single-story efforts. The ambitions of such projects are central to our brand. But Graphics, Interactive, Design and Social are spending a disproportionate amount of time on these labor-intensive one-offs. Meanwhile, we have repeatedly put off making the necessary improvements to allow our graphics to appear on mobile. […] We also need to prioritize sustainable solutions over time-consuming hacks, short-term fixes and workarounds to problems that emerge repeatedly, sometimes daily. For example, platform editors spend hours on Sunday mornings trying to fix stories that don’t work on mobile devices. They know the problems that will emerge but are unable to get the Technology resources to fix them. Since the newsroom does not control those resources, it is very difficult to prioritize even small changes that cause trouble day after day. [S. 36]

Tue Gutes und rede darüber

At The Times, we generally like to let our work speak for itself. We’re not ones to brag. Our competitors have no such qualms, and many are doing a better job of getting their journalism in front of new readers through aggressive story promotion. They regard this as a core function of reporters and editors, and they react with amazement that the same is not true here. […]

Even ProPublica, that bastion of old-school journalism values, goes to extraordinary lengths to give stories a boost. An editor meets with search, social and public relations specialists to develop a promotion strategy for every story. And reporters must submit five tweets along with each story they file. By contrast, our approach is muted. […]

A key tool is social media. Our institutional accounts reach tens of millions of people and the accounts of individual reporters and editors reach millions more. The size of our social team reflects our eagerness to succeed in this arena. 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. [S. 43]

We need to create structures inside the newsroom that broaden the reach and impact of our most important work. […]

Now The Huffington Post regularly outperforms us in these areas — sometimes even with our own content. An executive there described watching their aggregation outperform our original content after Nelson Mandela’s death. „You guys got crushed,“ he said. „I was queasy watching the numbers. I’m not proud of this. But this is your competition. You should defend the digital pick-pockets from stealing your stuff with better headlines, better social.“ [S. 44]

Our Twitter account is run by the newsroom. Our Facebook account is run by the business side. This unwieldy structure highlights a problem that has bedeviled our promotion efforts. Even though audience development is the kind of work that should be shared across the company, it instead falls into silos, with marketing, public relations, search, and social all answering to different bosses and rarely collaborating. [S. 45]

We need to explicitly urge reporters and editors to promote their work and we need to thank those who make the extra effort. Interest in and aptitude for social media should not be required — just as we don’t expect every reporter to be a great writer — but it should be a factor. […] Content promotion needs to become more integrated into each desk’s daily workflow.

Reporters and editors are eager to do what is asked of them, as long as they have clarity on both how and why — as well as some assurance that the extra effort will be rewarded. Right now, they are unsure of whether spending time on social represents doing work or avoiding it. For example, A.O. Scott said that his film reviews occasionally get an outsize reaction on social. He is torn between engaging with readers and moving on to the next story. „It raises the question, when is pushing it forward the better substitute for doing more work?“ [S. 47]

Die Leser einbeziehen

The Times commands respect, conveys authority and inspires devotion. All of that is captured in the pride with which people identify themselves as devoted Times readers. This is our huge advantage as we think more about connecting with our audience. This audience is often described as our single most underutilized resource. We can count the world’s best-informed and most influential people among our readers. And we have a platform to which many of them would be willing and honored to contribute. Yet we haven’t cracked the code for engaging with them in a way that makes our report richer. Of all the tasks we discuss in this report, the challenge of connecting with and engaging readers — which extends from online comments to conferences — has been the most difficult. [S. 49]

We should experiment with expanding our Op-Ed offerings to include specific sections and verticals, opening up our report to leaders in fields such as politics, business and culture. These guest essays, to use the more conventional term, would help The Times solidify its position as the destination for sophisticated conversation. [S. 51]

Prozesse und Strukturen oder: Tear down that wall!

To become more of a digital-first newsroom, we have to look hard at our traditions and push ourselves 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 quickly seem out of date, and the next challenge is just around the corner. [S. 58]

The wall dividing the newsroom and business side has served The Times well for decades […]. But the growth in our subscription revenue and the steady decline in advertising — as well as the changing nature of our digital operation — now require us to work together. […]

We still have a large and vital advertising arm that should remain walled off. But the many business-side departments and roles that are focused on readers — which we refer to as „Reader Experience“ throughout this report — need to work more closely with the newsroom, instead of being kept at arm’s length, so that we can benefit from their expertise. These departments and roles, which include large segments of Design, Technology, Consumer Insight Group, R&D and Product, are now critical to the newsroom’s efforts, possessing the skills and insights we need to grow our audience and take our digital report to the next level. [S. 60]

NYT-Innovation_Report_Business_Editorial
Quelle: «Innovation»-Report, S. 61 (zum Vergrössern Bid anklicken)

Everyone we interviewed in these groups [i.e. Design, Technology, Analytics, R&D und Product] — at all levels — told us that they could do their jobs better if they were tied in more with the newsroom and our core report. Indeed, the perception that their roles were „on a different side“ was a source of confusion and complaint. „‚News and business‘ doesn’t even capture it anymore,“ said the leader of one of these departments. „These are neutral functions that technically live on the business side, but they are not business functions; they are operational functions. Developers, designers, product managers — you could make the argument that not one of those people belong on the business side.“ [S. 62]

Collaboration is even more difficult for functions that are part of the business side. Several people in R&D expressed frustration over not being informed of newsroom priorities, leaving them focused mostly on business-side projects for advertising. At times, they have tried to guess what may be helpful to the newsroom, but as a result often end up producing work of limited utility. […]

We heard from editors who said the fear of impropriety meant that they actively avoided communicating with business colleagues altogether. Others said they simply waited for approval — even when it slowed down projects — because delays are considered a lesser evil than the appearance of crossing lines without permission. „People say to me, ‚You can’t let anyone know I’m talking to you about this; it has to be under the radar,'“ said a leader in one Reader Experience department. „Everyone is a little paranoid about being seen as too close to the business side.“ [S. 64]

Redaktionsleitung ohne Zeit für Reflexion

Our recommendation is to create a newsroom strategy team that serves as an adviser to the masthead [etwa: Redaktionsleitung]. The core function would be ensuring the masthead is apprised of competitors‘ strategies, changing technology and shifting reader behavior. The team would track projects around the company that affect our digital report, ensuring the newsroom is at the table when we need to be. This team would include people with strong backgrounds in journalism, technology, user experience, product and analytics. That expertise would help the masthead evaluate and set priorities in critical but less familiar areas like our content-management system, platform functionality and audience development. [S. 71]

The demands of a daily newspaper create a powerful gravitational pull on editors‘ attention, drawing their focus to the short-term — tomorrow’s front page, the tick-tock for Sunday’s paper, a project launching next month. Across the board, newsroom leaders told us that they are so consumed with the demands of the daily report that they have trouble finding the time to step back. In addition to the daily news demands, there are the daily crises and a packed schedule of standing meetings. […]

All this helps explain why Rich Meislin, who took the buyout several years ago, remains such a critical resource, providing information, insight and counsel about digital issues to a range of people in the newsroom and on the business side. In addition to having a deep well of institutional knowledge, he also has time. „They go to Rich because he’s available and because he’s not dealing with the daily report,“ said a masthead editor. [S. 72]

Digital First

In the coming years, The New York Times needs to accelerate its transition from a newspaper that also produces a rich and impressive digital report to a digital publication that also produces a rich and impressive newspaper. This is not a matter of semantics. It is a critical, difficult and, at times, painful transformation that will require us to rethink much of what we do every day. […]

There are factors that, understandably, slow this tricky transition. More than three quarters of our advertising and subscription revenue still comes from the newspaper, and most of our employees have spent their careers building skills to succeed in print. But the huge majority of our readers are digital, and this represents our single biggest opportunity for growth. [S. 81]

NYT-Innovation_Report_Revenue
Quelle: «Innovation»-Report, S. 81

The experience of putting out the newspaper informs almost every element of how we do our jobs, from the people we hire to how they work to what they produce. These assumptions — based on the newspaper’s fixed dimensions and hard deadlines — are so baked into our days that it is easy to overlook their artificial limitations or the new possibilities we could embrace. [S. 82]

For example, the vast majority of our content is still published late in the evening, but our digital traffic is busiest early in the morning. We aim ambitious stories for Sunday because it is our largest print readership, but weekends are slowest online. Each desk labors over section fronts, but pays little attention to promoting its work on social media. [S. 86]

Newsroom leaders spend a lot of time reading other outlets‘ stories. Few are studying their digital strategies — presentation, social presence, search optimization, navigation and mobile strategy. Fewer still are spending enough time looking at digital media outlets that we don’t consider competitors. And even fewer are looking at competitors on their smartphones. As a result, it is distressingly common to see mistakes on our apps. [S. 83]

Der Kampf um Talente

To help change the culture, we need more and better digital talent. [S. 87]

We heard many examples of employees who had turned down more money elsewhere to work at The Times — developers, designers and product managers are in particularly high demand in this digital world — because of a belief in the value of our journalism. However, we risk losing those employees when we wall them off from our journalism. […] This sense of division has prompted the departure of some of our best developers, exacerbating a talent deficit in Technology that slows down projects. The vast majority of developers on the eighth floor we spoke with believed they were not allowed to set foot in the newsroom, creating a sense of distance and even alienation from a product they are instrumental in creating. [S. 68]

Our current approach overvalues journalistic skills for digital hires and undervalues digital skills for journalism hires — often because that reflects how most editors know how to evaluate talent. Indeed, many people hired into purely digital roles said their clips were the most important factor in landing their jobs. [… ]

The complaints from digital staffers in our newsroom are, by now, familiar to our leadership: they feel their expertise isn’t put to good use, have few growth opportunities and believe their bosses do not understand their skills. [S. 89]

Attracting digital talent will take more work than we might think. We assume, rightly so, that ambitious journalists want to work at The Times. But our storied brand is less of a draw among digital natives. They are drawn to opportunities to create something, experiment and solve problems, and rethink how news is made — without the guardrails and bureaucracy of a legacy organization. [S. 91]

We need more digital talent over all, but we also need more digitally inclined leaders. This shortfall stems from several longstanding biases. We rarely hire outsiders directly into leadership positions. We have struggled to groom our digital journalists for leadership, in part because we don’t fully know how to use their skills. And we have a tendency to move traditional journalists into top digital roles. [S. 92]

[We need to A]ccept that digital talent is in high demand. To hire digital talent will take more money, more persuasion and more freedom once they are within The Times — even when candidates might strike us as young or less accomplished. [S. 96]

***

Emily Bell, Leiterin des Tow Center for Digital Journalism an der Columbia Graduate School of Journalism und Mitglied des Tamedia-Beirats für digitale Entwicklung, sieht im «Innovation»-Report der «New York Times» auch einen Versuch zur Quadratur des Kreises:

The report is an earnest and laudable attempt to square the circle of introducing a rapid and lasting culture of change whilst remaining, at core, the same. […] Some of us recognize within the pages of the report evidence of what I would call ‚explanation fatigue.‘ You cannot reinvent the wheel in news organizations and move on to building the driverless car; you have to explain the original wheel’s reinvention every day, in different ways, to every person who is not ‚up to speed.‘ It is exhausting, demoralizing, often futile, and it takes up time that needs to be spent thinking about what’s really next, not what the newsroom is next prepared to engage with. The internal pain on display in the report resonates everywhere.

If the Times wishes to continue down the dead-end path of merging newsrooms to do two things, print and digital simultaneously, it can look forward to many more years of falling behind the best digital practices. […] Because you cannot really produce innovation in digital whilst fighting the gravitational pull of print. It is too significant a force in terms of resource and workflow.

Weitere Zusammenfassungen und Analysen:

von Martin Hitz | Kategorie: Medienschau

3 Bemerkungen zu «Auch die «New York Times» kocht nur mit Wasser»

  1. Stefan Meier:

    tl;dr

  2. Felix Schweizer:

    Der Niedergang der NYT hat damit zu tun, dass sie sich wie ein Parteiblatt aufführt und sie nur ein kleines ideologisches Zeitungslesersegment anspricht. Da man heute die Wahl hat, schaut man halt anderswo hin.

  3. Kurt Imhof:

    An diesem internen Bericht ist nichts wirklich neu, ausser dass er den Blick auf die NYT als Goldstandard im digitalen Zeitalter konterkariert. Es handelt sich um eine gut gemachte Aggregation aller Argumente der digitalen Avantgarde gegen die Printkultur. Leider umschifft der Bericht das Kernproblem des Informationsjournalismus, obwohl er vom angestrengten Blick auf die Wettbewerber wie Vox, BuzzFeed und Huffington Post lebt, aber den Elefant im Raum übersieht: der andere Content. Social Media, Tablets und Smartphones als heilige Kühe des Traffic mutieren die journalistischen Inhalte. Basis der Auseinandersetzung zwischen Print- und Digitalkultur im Journalismus ist nicht – auf jeden Fall nicht in erster Linie – die Gravitation der täglichen Zeitungsmache mit ihren eingespielten Strukturen, Problemlösungstraditionen und Zeitschranken auf die der Bericht fixiert ist, sondern die News selbst. Der Konsum der Digital Natives auf Smarthones und Tabletts und vor allem der Bedarf der Social Networks selegiert sehr viel stärker Human Interest, moralisch-emotionale Frames, Betroffenheitscollagen, Bilderfluten und Konsumerfahrungen wie -beihilfen. Über den Inhalt läuft der Kulturkampf im und um den Journalismus, die Produktionsroutinen sind bloss ein gewichtiger Nebenschauplatz.

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