Image via Mashable Unless you have been out on vacation or haven't been following the trends in digital media for the last few days, Buzzfeed recently obtained and leaked an internal New York Times document about Innovation. You are more than welcome to read the full 90+ analysis or read another recap here.

The bottom line?

From a digital perspective, the New York Times is in bad shape. Loosely translated, from a "will we be around in the future?" perspective, the outlook appears to be glass half empty for the New York Times from reading the report at face value.

While the report does carry a "we're screwed, guys" tone for New York Times staffers, I found a lot of positive notes from the fact that it was leaked.

The New York Times is now at the center of the digital media content discussion

Is content truly king?

Should we focus on a sharing strategy or spend all of our efforts on creating content so good that people will view us as a destination? 

The report shows that the New York Times viewed themselves as an online destination. They focused a lot of their time on creating great content. Digital was more or less an "add-on" piece to their distribution model. For 100+ years, this approach has worked. Once an author hit publish, their work was done and quality was the key differentiator for selling content. People had to find their content destination of choice.

Now, we expect the news to find us, not the other way around. The innovation report showed a dramatic dip in traffic to their homepage. An honest look in the mirror told the New York Times that they weren't the destination that they believed they were. They focused so much on content quality that strategy was neglected. The report noted that other publishers (Vox, Business Insider, Buzzfeed etc) may not have had the same caliber of content but really hit strategy hard...taking attention away from The New York Times. They noted that content and strategy could not live independently of each other but had to work together.


This finding has opened up a huge conversation on content quality vs distribution strategy. How much time should we focus on great content creation vs a solid distribution strategy? Where is the balance at? These are questions that are going to continue to resurface over the next few weeks as this story remains fresh.

At the center of it all? The New York Times. Their report has provided more insight as to why some media companies perform better than others than almost any document has thus far.

Looking at the speck in the Times' eye makes us cognizant of the log in our own

We have been given the opportunity to learn from another's mistake instead of learning the hard way on our own. It's easy to read this thinking "man, I'm glad I'm not those guys." But we very well could be those guys. In fact, we could be worse off but not realize it.

While we all may not be media companies (very few of us actually) there's a lot we can learn and apply as brand marketers from the findings of this report. Scott Monty does a fantastic job rounding up those learnings here, so I won't drag on with details. However, this news should be the wake up call we need to look ourselves in the mirror and honestly answer the tough questions about our own brands and businesses. The answers may not be as desirable as we think.

We've learned that technology isn't the differentiator; it's a change in internal processes

The Times aren't behind on digital because of a lack of technology resources. From a technology standpoint, they probably have better assets than those of their competitors.

What's hurting them is applying old thinking to new technology.

Wisdom from years and years of experience shouldn't be dismissed - at all. It's how we apply that wisdom is what makes or breaks us. The Times have a record of placing non-digital people in digital-focused roles, applying old publishing methodologies to an industry that is all but abolishing the old systems of content distribution. It has taken months to years of navigating bureaucracy for digital people to build or change any systems. It hurts growth for an old established company like the New York Times (or any large established corporation) in two ways:

  • It makes it harder and harder for companies to adapt to changes in user behavior. While some levels of bureaucracy are healthy, when process for the sake of process gets in the way of progress, it's far from productive.
  • It makes talent retention harder - slowing down change even more. When digitally savvy employees feel isolated in their roles or have to wait for "the process" to build new things, they face two choices: dig in their heels for the long haul and see those changes through OR head out to another more digitally-savvy company before they risk becoming irrelevant.



I have to commend the New York Times for taking an honest look at themselves and being real about their future of the digital media industry. This proactive measure on their end leads me to believe that it's not a sinking ship - but will take some time and significant change to steer it in the right course.

While it'll be just a slight bump in the road, the leak of this document has put The New York Times in middle of conversations about the evolution of online media.

For better or for worse, everyone will be watching.

Question: Could you relate to the pain points illustrated in The New York Times' innovation report? What big changes do you see coming?



The Full New York Times Innovation Report