New York Times completes ‘innovation report’ led by Sulzberger scion

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Back in July, New York Times executive editor Jill Abramson announced that Arthur Gregg Sulzberger, a metro reporter and the son of Times chairman and publisher Arthur Sulzberger Jr., would "take a leave from metro to be the editor in charge of a new ideas task force, which will function as the newsroom’s version of a skunk-works team, a creative team that will think up and propose new ways to expand our news offerings digitally."

The fruits of that exercise were revealed today with the internal release of an "innovation report" by Sulzberger and his crew. It calls for the creation of new teams focused on audience development, analytics and strategy, as well as newsroom collaboration with "reader-focused departments on the business side" and prioritizing "digital hiring to help the digital-first transition."

You can view an 11-page abstract of the report by clicking here.

"The report concludes that the masthead needs to make further structural changes in the newsroom to achieve a digital first reality, including having a senior editor focused on audience development, another group focused on analytics and an advisory strategic arm," Abramson and managing editor Dean Baquet wrote in a memo to staff.

"We have always wanted the hallmark of our time to be leading our transition to a digital first newsroom. We are tantalizingly close, but as this report points out, there are urgent challenges still facing us."

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The memo to staff about the report is below:

Dear Colleagues,

Jill and Dean write: The Innovation report being presented today represents another milestone in our newsroom's digital transformation.

It is the work product of a six-month group effort led by Arthur Gregg Sulzberger and a team of our newsroom colleagues who stepped away from their regular day jobs to contemplate the digital challenges facing us. Their study was rigorous. Their conclusions are urgent. The masthead embraces the committee’s key recommendations.

As many of you know, Arthur’s group began with the intent of coming up with a new wave of paid product ideas for The Times. Instead, after initial deliberations and study, they came to us with a suggested mission change: they strongly believed there was much more value in maximizing the full digital potential of our core news report.

In the digital age, it is not enough to produce the best journalism in the world. Once we go up with a ground-breaking story, whether a scoop or a 2,500 word special report or video, this is not the end of our work in the newsroom. Publishing, in today’s crowded environment, includes taking responsibility for and assuming ownership of the impact of our quality journalism on our website, apps and other NYT platforms. That means training all of our journalists in how to use social media to report and amplify their stories. It means our most senior editors must plan and implement a rollout plan for our most important pieces. From the moment a story is published, we should host the conversation about it on NYTimes.com and related platforms.

Instead, our colleagues found, our competitors are often taking our stories and advantaging themselves with our content on their platforms, even developing paid apps from stories that were ours originally.

The report concludes that the masthead needs to make further structural changes in the newsroom to achieve a digital first reality, including having a senior editor focused on audience development, another group focused on analytics and an advisory strategic arm.

The report also calls for greater cooperation and harmonizing with our business side colleagues, who already have groups doing great work in some of these areas.

Perhaps the biggest challenge of all is how to genuinely integrate and create a force multiplier for these new, digitally focused functions and to incorporate them into the existing structure of the newsroom. Ian Fisher and other colleagues have been working on structural changes to the newsroom to better organize us for digital first. Their work, which is ongoing, will now also include the new functions outlined in the report: audience development, strategy and analytics.

We all owe Arthur’s group and these other colleagues our admiration and gratitude for helping point the way.

We have always wanted the hallmark of our time to be leading our transition to a digital first newsroom. We are tantalizingly close, but as this report points out, there are urgent challenges still facing us. That urgency is a powerful message to the whole newsroom. Our focus over the next few years must be to lead us, with your help, to the next frontier of digital journalism where The New York Times leads in both quality and innovation.

The changes ahead will not be mysterious. The process will be transparent. We will soon be back to you with concrete next steps. With your help, we are excited about tackling the hard work ahead.

Fondly,

Jill and Dean