New York Times Embraces Digital-First Mindset

It’s hard to find people today that want a physical newspaper delivered to their doorstep. This is the challenge for some of the leading new organizations, many of whom thought of them as “newspapers” until recently. As in so many other disrupted industries, digital is the primary way consumers get their news. One company that is leading the way in directly engaging the digital consumer is the New York Times.

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Brands like the New York Times have made the strategic decision to be disruptors in their own industry. The Times is doing this by creating “The User-Centered Newsroom,” according to Aron Pilhofer, associate managing editor for digital strategy. Pilhofer spoke to me after his presentation at the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit.

“When Mark Thompson came to the Times a few years ago he really shook things up,” Pilhofer told me. “He basically took the advertising department management responsibilities away from our GM of digital, so she could focus on marketing, products and everything digital.

“Another thing we’re doing is changing the mindset of our newsroom,” he said. “Traditionally, the content and business sides of the company didn’t speak to each other. Now we’re moving towards business-focused or product-centric content because that’s what engages with our audience. It’s like Buzzfeed in a way. They have a guided missile that’s aimed at building and maintaining readers because of quality content and a great product.”

The New York Times is also investing more money and more resources in apps. Pilhofer told me that they have 16 staff members dedicated to a new app that will aggregate New York Times content in real-time, 24/7.

“We know there’s an opportunity to bring great stories to people around the world, so at eight dollars per month, we hope people will find the value in that,” he said.

At the Digital Strategy Innovation Summit, Pilhofer closed out his presentation with an image of “Snowfall,” a piece that ran back in 2012. With 19,000 words crafted together by Pulitzer Prize winner John Branch, he said this “shot in the dark” may help the brand better understand what readers want.

“With over one thousand comments on the piece and a tremendous amount of traffic, there’s no doubt that we were surprised with how well this type of story did because of its length,” Pilhofer said. “But we don’t know if they read it all, bounced around, skipped chapters or anything like that. I think in order for us to really have an impact in the digital space, we’ll need to find better ways to track and convert that engagement. That’s how we become better storytellers.”

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