The New York Times Innovation Report 2014

The New York Times’ Leaked Report and industrial-era legacy issues.

Myles Tanzer’s article on Buzzfeed, summarising the leaked New York Times Report, reminded me of something the delightfully-clever Frank Rose wrote in his article last year for the Milken Report.

Societies tend to resemble the technologies that define them.


Rose elaborates:

Industrial production depends on large numbers of people taking orders from the top as they engage in repetitive tasks that yield only a small portion of the whole. Nearly everyone is a cog in the machine. Industrial-age companies  – including newspaper publishers, movie studios and television networks – tend to operate accordingly, on a command-and-control model that relies on hierarchical thinking and strict categorization….

Lines are drawn between author and audience, entertainment and advertising (or “church” and “state” in the case of journalism), fiction and reality…

This description feels very apt for The Times which, in the report admits ‘that we [The Times] are not moving with enough urgency’.

The New York Times is not the only large, legacy publisher to suffer from a complicated backend system. One wire/publisher service I have worked with has similar issues and didn’t have the stomach/energy/budget (delete as appropriate) to address these issues. This paves the way for new, leaner, more agile startups to jump in.

Rose also described these newer, internet-based companies in a way that is jargon-free and makes sense:

Digital societies are more fluid, with net-worked structures and a sense-and-respect mentality. In terms of organization, effective digital-age companies (for example, Apple) tend to resemble the Internet – decentralized and interconnected – while their less successful brethren (like Microsoft and Sony) remain hierarchical and disjointed. Control still exists at the successful companies, of course, but it’s not exercised through layers of middle management.

(bolding my own)


It looks like we’re all seeing the same patterns, it’s just a question of how to solve these problems. The New York Times’ site redesign was supposed to tidy up the backend to help the paper evolve at a quicker rate as new platforms and technologies inevitably emerge. (See my earlier article about the redesign as a reminder). However this report suggests that even this big step is not sufficient to bridge the gap between their legacy system and the new wave of newcomers: Buzzfeed, Upworthy, Vox et al.

The remarkable part is that we can now digest the article in full, much of it will be reassuring to other publishers in the short term (‘they haven’t figured it out yet either’) but the log-term predicament is rather grim.

It is also worth noting that Frank Rose appears to be ahead of the masses in his insights, clearly someone who knows his way around the digital landscape better than most.

The leaked report, now available in full, in colour via Mashable and embedded below.

The Full New York Times Innovation Report

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