At this year’s Netexplo 2014 Forum, I had the good fortune to moderate two of the sessions on the main stage, including an interview with Ian Fisher, Assistant Managing Editor for digital operations at the New York Times. With Ian, we discussed Deepening Digital Journalism at the venerable NYT, covering topics such as Watching Syria’s War (which I had discussed last year with Jennifer Preston — follow Jennifer on Twitter! — on the same stage), the Sochi Olympics, the Dialect Quiz and a brand new mobile application.

Here were some of the key takeaways from the conversations I had with Ian.

The digital agenda

The New York Times continues to regard digital as a strategic avenue of growth, yet understanding that nothing is for sure. They have tasked themselves with coming up with a strong piece of content every week that will be digital in its core. To drive the digital agenda, the editorial meetings at NYT have changed dramatically to include a broader swathe of métiers, including the technology specialists, data experts and graphists as well as the business side.

The importance of curation

One of the key thrusts of the NYT, as presented by Ian Fisher, is that they must show their strength via the careful selection of stories. Its reputation will hinge not just on the quality of the coverage, but on the very selection of stories they wish to cover and comment. To wit, at the Sochi Olympics, where they purposefully winnowed down the events they covered in order to provide deeper, more powerful coverage. As examples, Ian presented both the visual effects and data-rich analysis that went into events such as downhill skiing and figure skating. Specifically, they did a deep dive on Ted Ligety, thanks to someone passing directly behind Ligety (check out the link!). In figure skating, they dissected the way judges look at each jump, frame by frame. In Ian’s words, that way, a fall isn’t necessarily as penalized based on the quality of the preceding jump.

Ian Fisher - Netexplo 2014 Ian Fisher NYT

Netexplo 2014 Ian Fisher NYT Now

A second example of the importance of curation was with the launch of a brand new mobile-only app, entitled NYT Now. For a reduced subscription ($8/month), readers can gain access to a manually curated feed of New York Times stories on the mobile (iPhone first). The layout is also (somewhat) adapted for the mobile interface. There will be a staff of 10 people responsible for driving the NYT Now [defunct] content. Among the other interesting elements of Ian’s discussion was that NYT Now will also be aggregating content from other sites and sources. A kind of scoop in itself.

Going viral at NYT?

Seeking viewers, eyeballs and clicks is the bailiwick of anyone online. The New York Times cannot stay neutral to the numbers game. With 50 million unique visitors per month, the challenge for the Times is huge and global. While some media actively pursue tactics that are designed to draw eyeballs and clicks with somewhat inflammatory headlines, articles that are timed for effect, or techniques that drive clicks (e.g. sliders), the NYT is looking for ways to drive traffic all the while maintaining a strong editorial line. Ian presented the Dialect Quiz, in which some 20 million people participated. Launched just before Christmas 2013, the Dialect Quiz was a standout performance because of the high accuracy of the results. Created by Josh Katz, a grad student at NC State University, the quiz — with just 25 questions — is able to pin down a person’s origins in the US by the way he/she pronounces words. It turns out that for hybrid personalities, with a British twist, such as Mark Thompson (NYT CEO) and myself, we both ended up being tagged as Hawaiians. {Take the Quiz!} For all the traffic generated, the challenge for the NYT is to create sufficient value – inline with the NYT’s standards – as they continue to drive the digital agenda. Value in the Dialect Quiz came from the innovation and the surprising accuracy of the answers.

Clearly, deepening digital journalism for the NYT is a journey. The ‘war’ is not yet won; but, the NYT has a fighting spirit! I certainly was thankful for Ian coming all the way to Paris to share the Times’ digital activities and achievements.

*Disclaimer: I am the International Media Director for Netexplo.

Pin It on Pinterest