What Brands Can Learn From Leaked New York Times Memo
May 16, 2014
May 16, 2014
Media-watchers around the globe were shocked when the New York Times announced it had fired Executive Editor Jill Abramson. While the Gray Lady has broken many a story in its long history, its public relations department didn’t handle the release of its own news very well. Outlets from the New Yorker to NPR started filling in the gaps around the reasons for Abramson’s firing, including rumors her pay wasn’t equal to that of her male predecessors.
Perhaps one of the more interesting reports to come from this feeding frenzy was Buzzfeed’s exclusive on the Times’ digital strategy—reportedly another point of contention between Abramson and the newspaper’s ownership. Buzzfeed obtained an epic internal memo of the Times’ digital efforts, which the Neiman Journalism Lab dubbed “raw.” Some of the quotes are damning. Citing a “cadre of editors who remain unfamiliar with the web,” the Times worries it is losing its “journalism advantage” to upstart newsgathering websites like Vox and SB Nation.
It’s a tough line for the Times to walk. As a 163-year-old paper, perhaps it lacks the flexibility and hunger of a burgeoning online-only outlet.
Even if you’re not a close media-watcher, there’s still plenty to take away from this memo and apply to your organization’s digital strategy.
Put one team in charge of your social channels. The Times’ Twitter account is run by the newsroom, while its Facebook page is run by its business team. This can lead to confusion and miscommunication. Whether you hire an outside agency or bring in an internal staff, there should be one team or teams that are very much in synch to coordinate posting and moderation.
Invest in SEO: “You guys got crushed,” said an executive from Huffington Post in the report, discussing traffic when news of the death of Nelson Mandela broke. Are your competitors saying this about your organization? Make sure your potential customers can find you.
Experiment… The Times has tried new digital offerings, such as an international homepage and the NYT Now app. Experimentation is critical to success in social—you may know your audience demographics, but it takes experimentation to see what keeps them coming back for more.
…But know when to say it’s not working: The international homepage is a flop, according to the Times report. If you have a digital offering or strategy that’s not paying off, reevaluate as soon as possible. The Times has the deep pockets and institutional knowledge and archives to develop some blockbuster content. It should empower a digitally-savvy team to come up with new ideas and give them the leeway to act quickly.
The way we read and share news has been in constant flux since the advent of the Internet, but the New York Times is still the paper of record for the United States—and perhaps the world at large. It will take a great amount of new-school thinking to translate this old-school institution into the digital age.