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Saulo Santana
Berlin & Potsdam, Germany

Still one of the most remarkable documents I’ve seen about newsroom innovation

After basically one year of its publication, I read again one of the most remarkable documents I’ve seen, and noticed something that I saw in different countries in almost all newsrooms that i developed any digital project in the last years: You can feel the frustration at a newsroom that is, even with digital steps done, still oriented by an old model.

Seeing one of the world’s leading news organisations, like the NYT, giving itself a rigorous self-examination, when its about newsroom innovation and digital strategy, is inspiring.

I recommend the reading of the full report (in the end of this post). Here are some of my takeways:


“Readers are finding and engaging with our jour-nalism in vastly different ways. More readers ex-pect us to find them on Twitter and Facebook, andthrough email and phone alerts. But the newsroompays less attention to these platforms, even thoughthey offer our main, and sometimes only, channelsto tens of millions of readers.”


“Because we are journalists, we tend to look at ourcompetitors through the lens of content rather thanstrategy. But BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and USAToday are not succeeding simply because of lists,quizzes, celebrity photos and sports coverage. Theyare succeeding because of their sophisticated social,search and community-building tools and strate-gies, and often in spite of their content.”


“The need is urgent. Our home page has been our main tool for getting our journalism to readers, but its impact is waning. Only a third of our readers ever visit it. And those who do visit are spending less time”


“Real experimentation is about adopting a rigorous, scientific method for proving new concepts and constantly tweaking them to be as successful as possible. This is how every major digital innovator — including Google and Amazon — works today (…) We must push back against our perfectionist impulses. Though our journalism always needs to be polished, our other efforts can have some rough edges as we look for new ways to reach our readers.”


“If our Collection tool were intuitive and easy to use, we could encourage readers to drag and drop a group of stories into their own collections, which they could then share. This is an opportunity to em-power readers to make something on our site with less risk to our brand.”


“Tools, templates and permanent fixes can elevate the whole report”


“That runs counter to the approach at so many ofour digital competitors. “We are focused on build-ing tools to create Snowfalls everyday, and gettingthem as close to reporters as possible,” said KevinDelaney, editor of Quartz, which is known for inno- vative storytelling formats. “I’d rather have a Snow-fall builder than a Snowfall.”


“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 and elevating the whole report. We greatly undervalue replicability.”


“We’ve heard time and again that younger readersare moving away from browsing and that they in-creasingly expect news to come to them, on social,through alerts and through personalization. Thereis a sense that “if something is important, it will findme.” We are far behind in adjusting to these trends”


“We could create a “follow” button that offers read-ers a variety of ways to curate and receive their ownnews feeds, ensuring they never miss a Modern Loveor Maureen Dowd column. With a single click, theirfavorite topics, features and writers could automati-cally be collected in a Following Inbox. We couldalso offer readers the opportunity to have alertsabout new stories sent to their phone or email.”


“The percentage of readers who visit BuzzFeedthrough social, for example, is more than six timesgreater than at The Times. They have learned,among other things, that a great Facebook post has become a better promotional device than a head-line and that the impact of social is even greateron mobile”


“Promotion doesn’t just meanusing social media sites likeTwitter and Facebook. Emailand search are also powerfuldrivers of traffic. Anotheris optimization, the use ofspecialized tools and tactics todraw readers and keep themreading. At competitors, thisis done story by story andplatform by platform, beforeand after publication.”


“One approach would be to create an “impact tool- box” and train an editor on each desk to use it. Thetoolbox would provide strategy, tactics and tem-plates for increasing the reach of an article beforeand after it’s published.”


“Most of the social networks’traffic comes fromsmartphones. That’s why ourcompetitors say the key towinning mobile is to win onsocial”


“To help promote the Kristof collection, we pulledtogether a list of relevant, influential people whocould spread the word about it on social media.This work could be automated and turned into aninternal tool, which we could use to help promoteour best journalism on social media.”


“There is no reason that the space filled by TEDTalks, with tickets costing $7,500, could not have been created by The Times. “One of our biggest con-cerns is that someone like The Times will start a realconference program,” said a TED executive.”


“For example, our mobile app, “The Scoop,” andour international home page have failed to gaintraction with readers, yet we still devote resourcesto them. We ended the Booming blog but kept itsnewsletter going. These ghost operations distracttime, energy and resources that could be used fornew projects. At the same time, we haven’t tried to wring insights from these efforts. “There were nometrics, no targets, no goals to hit and no period ofre-evaluation after the launch,” said a digital plat-forms editor, about our international home page.”


” The newsroom should begin anintensive review of its print traditions and digitalneeds — and create a road map for the difficult tran-sition ahead. We need to know where we are, where we’re headed and where we want to go. (…) That means aggressively questioning many of ourprint-based traditions and their demands on ourtime, and determining which can be abandoned tofree up resources for digital work”


“Instead of running mobile on autopilot, we need to view the platform as an experience that demands its own quality control and creativity.”


“When it takes 20 months to build one thing, your skill set becomes less about innovation and more about navigating bureaucracy. That means the longer you stay, the more you’re doubling down on staying even longer”


“Our internal fixation on it can be unhealthy,disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive.Just think about how many points in our day are stilloriented around A1 — from the 10 a.m. meeting tothe summaries that reporters file in the early after-noon to the editing time that goes into those summa-ries to the moment the verdict is rendered at 4:30”


The Full New York Times Innovation Report