June 29, 2016
The Times They Are a-Changin’
by Ryan Harrington
In its most significant modernization since the 1970s, The Grey Lady will be getting something of a dye job this summer, in order to stay young. In the same way the threat of television spurred the New York Times’s 1970s expansion into the multi-section behemoth we recognize today, the smartphone has forced our paper of record to evolve once more.
And so, executive editor Dean Banquet has appointed a team of seven staff journalists, dubbed The 2020 Group (“The Rag-nificent Seven” must have been taken) after the target date for palpable results, to advise on how best to adapt to today’s readership. Joe Pompeo reports for Politico:
In a staff memo last month, Baquet warned that the newsroom “will have to change significantly—swiftly and fearlessly.” Some of these changes are already coming into focus, from a big reimagining of the metro section (“what a New York report should look like for a news organization that is increasingly international”), to a complex reorientation of how the print edition is put together. (“Assigning editors, in the very near future, will not worry about filling space.”)
Whether the gravity of many of the prescribed changes has hit home yet for most Times people is up for debate. But Baquet has delivered the message in broad terms.
It’s not that the paper hasn’t tried, and often succeeded, with new and adaptive publishing practices. Digital-only subscriptions, video content, and a social media presence have helped the paper immensely. But to keep revenue up, the paper must think beyond pleasing old readers, and start gaining new ones. One way to lure them in will be by publishing digital editions for non-Americans in foreign markets. Another will be catering to readers who only access the paper through smartphones. The consensus, according to a 2014 internal “Innovation Report,” is that the Times “was doing a poor job distributing its journalism online, especially in those precincts of the Internet that perhaps aren’t crawling with your average Times reader.”
The role of the editor seems to be the one most likely to change. Currently, editors spend quite a bit of time deciding which stories will appear in print (and where? and how big?). Soon, they will re-focus their energy to assigning and editing stories for digital, relying partially on a newly-formed “Print Hub” to make those layout decisions each evening.
While the extent of possible staff reductions remains unclear, it is true that the median age of journalists in leadership roles is getting younger, a step in the direction of modernizing the paper as a whole.
Ryan Harrington is an editor at Melville House.