What the New York Times 2020 Report Means for Journalism and PR

Feb 02, 2017 Danielle Laurion

This will be a year of uncertainty. If the last 13 days alone haven’t made people question, well everything, almost every industry is dealing with a time of change.

In this time of uncertainty, we must all think about how we tell our stories using facts and breaking through the noise that has become fake news. Publishers and journalists are under extreme scrutiny for how they report the news and provide the world with timely, honest and accurate reporting. The New York Times for example has invested $5 million for their coverage of the Trump administration, “allowing us to report on the post-election transformation with even more ambition,” said the Times’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, and managing editor, Joe Kahn.

In addition, the NYT has developed what it’s calling the 2020 report, prepared by seven members of the Times. This team spent the last year working closely with newsroom leaders; conducting conversations with Times journalists and outsiders; analyzing reader behavior and focus groups; and conducting a written survey of the newsroom.

The New York Times is winning at journalism, but not at a scale sufficient to achieve the company’s goals or sustain our cherished newsroom operations,” said the members of the 2020 team.

The New York Times 2020 report outlines the publisher’s strategy and plan to double its digital revenue to $800 million by 2020 through increased digital subscriptions. It will continue to operate as a subscription-first model - which is how it has always been - but not through trying to maximize pageviews.  

Here are highlights how the Times plans to meet this goal”

1. Editorial reporting must change.

  • More visuals. The Times publishes about 200 pieces every day but, despite its excellence in visual journalism, not enough of this content uses digital storytelling tools. To increase the use of visuals, the Times will hire more visual experts and will look to these experts to play a more primary role in covering stories where photos and visuals makes the most sense, rather than playing a secondary role to a string of text.
  • What this means for PR: For years now reporters have been looking for graphics and data visuals to add to articles. Whenever you can show, rather than tell, it makes it easier for journalists to quickly add value to their stories.
  • A new approach to features and service journalism. The Times has been struggling with growing its digital audience for feature content - apart from Cooking and Watching. The features were born in the 1970s in print but now need a new strategy for digital and traditional features. For digital features, the focus will be on providing guidance rather than traditional features (meant to delight and inform) which are mostly used in print.
  • What this means for PR: When pitching the Times for features, we will need to make sure we ask ourselves what value is this story providing.

2. Their staff must change.

  • Expand training for staff and accelerate diversity hiring. The 2020 survey uncovered that many in the newsroom desire more training to acquire new skills to tell more stories. Further, increasing the diversity in the newsroom will help bring new perspectives to create a more engaging and richer report. The Times will increase its hiring to more people of color, more women, more people from rural areas and younger and non-Americans.
  • Freelance work will be expanded in some areas and shrink in others. For the Times, on a per dollar basis, freelance content attracts a larger audience on average than staff-written pieces. However, the Times will look at how these freelancers are used. Whether it is covering local news by “stringers” in every U.S. state or contributing to Op-Eds, etc. how freelance adds to the report will be evaluated.
  • What this means for PR: We will need to keep up to date on who is freelancing for the Times, and what they are looking to cover. Their areas of focus might all change.
3. The way they work must change.
  • Every department should have a clear vision that is well understood by its staff, with goals all tracking to the number one success metric. It was found in the 2020 survey that most departments do not know who their primary audience is and which medium is a priority to reach that audience. Further, most in the newsroom also were unclear on goals and what success even looks like. The Times is a subscription-first business. Pageviews for the Times does not equal success.
  • What this means for PR: As the Times gets more specific with their audiences, we will need to make sure we adjust appropriately. Each newsroom will have clearer goals on who they want to target and therefore we will need to make sure our stories will reach those targets.
  • A greater focus on conceptual, front-end editing. A shift to front-end editing will include an increase in story shaping and thinking about what form a story should take - whether visual, audio, etc. It will also include an increase value on copy-editing.  
  • What this means for PR: Sending along graphics to accompany news might help editors make the case for a story. It will also tie into their goal of making the report more visual.
While the New York Times print newspaper will always be an icon, an increased focus on digital is the backbone to drive subscriptions which has always been the Times’s number one goal and will likely always be its number one success metric. As PR professionals, to be successful, we need to understand the goal of every publication and how they adapt. Especially in times of such uncertainty.
Topics: Public Relations, Journalism, PR, New York Times
Danielle Laurion

Danielle is a core member of the education and real estate practice area teams. She also helps oversee content, digital and social media strategies across her teams and the agency.

Read more from Danielle Laurion

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