8 principles that transformed The New York Times

1. Have the willingness and ability to change

It is a fundamental element in that journey of transformation. Change starts from the management level, and it has to be implemented from top to bottom.

Change should also be in the management approach and companies must be ready to alter the way they do business in order to thrive and move forward.

2. Focus aggressively on digital 

Our intention is to become a digital company that puts out a newspaper, not a newspaper company that has a website and a mobile app. That requires a fundamental change in mindset; our journalists must shift from focusing on print to focusing on digital.

They need to rethink: what is a story on web? The story has to include photography, video and infographs. Consumers today expect that. It is what they want to see, it is what they respond to.

3. Serve readers what they want, when they want

It would be easy for us to say that we prefer to attract print subscribers because they pay us $900 a year for a subscription, while our digital subscribers pay between $200 and $300 a year. Naturally, we want both, but increasingly we need to serve our digital subscribers in every way possible. Again, this means we have to change the way we do journalism to appeal to people who use smartphones and tablets, for example.

Some of the steps we took to facilitate this change included: moving to a new building in 2006, redesigning the heart of the newsroom four times to better respond to digital, and this year we launched a long-term plan of how we need to organise our newsroom again.

A good example of how we changed is the way we covered the terrible attacks in November in Paris: we had reporters on the ground; we had a virtual reality piece to allow our viewers to put themselves in the middle of the candlelight vigil in the heart of La Republique Square. This was a new form of journalism we have not done before. 

4. Try to be cool

We try to be a cutting-edge company constantly trying new things, and virtual reality is one of them. That 360-degree view of what is going on adds such a new dimension to reporting and the reader experience. Of course, the reader needs the appropriate device to experience that so we distributed 1 million Google Cardboard devices (headsets) with our Sunday circulation. And while we were nowhere near the first to do virtual reality, we got all the attention for doing it, because the strength of our print delivery system allowed us to make this experience real for hundreds or thousands of our subscribers.

Our ability to deliver these devices to readers at home made us the hot kid on the block!

5. Use data and information to drive your business 

In the traditional newspaper business, think about what you know about your readers: you know how many people bought the newspaper, depending on your model, you might not who bought it and where they live. But what do you know beyond that? Do you know what they like to read? What they don’t like to read?

But with digital, we know everything: what stories people read, what stories they didn’t read, what device they read them on, what time of day they read them and how much of it they read.

This is information that can be used to personalise the experience – also on a smart phone, a tablet and on the web. That’s what people expect. Every person that goes to Facebook sees a different home screen. Every person that goes to Amazon sees a different home screen. And every person who goes to The New York Times’ website sees the “same” home screen. We are able to do that because we know our data and we know how to use it.

6. Transform the product experience to make it an essential part of people’s daily life 

An editor once told me: “Our readers have to make 100 decisions every day, and we help them with almost none of those decisions.” So one thing we have done along these lines is to launchNYT Cooking, because we believe we are in a position to actually help our readers make their food decisions on a daily basis. NYT Cooking has attracted up to 10 million users who can choose from 17,000 recipes featuring beautiful illustrations.

We are also developing a product called “Watching,” to help our readers wade through the massive variety of entertainment, whether it is on their television, streaming services or movies, to help them find what they are looking for and when they want to watch or attend.

We are also developing another product called “Well” for health and wellness. So we want to be a bigger part of the readers’ lives and create more reasons for them to come to us and more reasons to pay us money and be subscribers.

7. Serve advertisers in the same way we serve our readers 

We aim to serve our advertisers with the same innovative storytelling we serve our readers. The fundamental issue with digital advertising is that it is an unstable medium, it’s changing very fast: pop-ups are nearly gone and display banners are now out of fashion in the US. What is hot and relatively new is branded advertising.

In 2014, we developed T Brand Studio, which is an operation that creates stories for advertisers. Advertisers want to tell stories about their products the same way a journalist wants to tell a story about an event in the world. We enable them to do that and they are keenly interested in this operation. This helps us to stay relevant.

As of the end of 2015, we launched 120 campaigns for 70 advertisers using that operation, and we see that line of business growing from $40 million last year to $80 million and more this year.

8. Be relentless

This is a difficult process, but as I said, we feel like we have accomplished it, constantly working very hard to refine it, and we’ve redefined the relationship between the newsroom and the business side to be sure we will not let our commercial interest influence our journalists. But now the business side, the news side, product, technology, marketing and advertising have to work seamlessly together to create digital products to continue the success that we are having.

By WAN-IFRA contributing writer Ola Kseroof

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