Monday, 25 February 2019

What SA media can learn from the New York Times

The New York Times has offered some hope for the media industry at a time when its newer rivals are struggling to find their way. 

The Times recently reported a phenomenal growth in subscribers.

Meanwhile, millenial media companies like Vice, Huffington Post and Buzz Feed announced in February that they would cut hundreds of staff in order to remain profitable. The New York Times, on the other hand, is hiring staff and showing growth that was once almost unthinkable. 

The newspaper announced in November that it had grown subscriptions by 203,000 to 4 million in the third quarter. About 3 million of those subscribers are receiving the digital-only edition. The Times also announced that operating profit had grown to $41.4 million from $31.8 million in the previous quarter.

It seems almost odd that a 168-year-old news organisation is leaving its digital-era competitors in the dust. 

Here are some lessons that South African media houses can learn from the New York Times.

1. ‘You find the future in the past.’

These are the words of Mark Thompson, the president and CEO of the New York Times Company. Thompson made the remarks at Fortune magazine’s Brainstorm Reinvent conference in September 2018. Thompson was referring to the formula behind the newspaper’s digital boom. Another way to put this is: Content is king. And the NYT has that in spades. Capitalising on good old favourites like job openings and apartment listings has worked for the publication. Want ads used to generate as much as $235 million for the NYT but dropped to around $7 million when print began to decline. Thompson said recreating the following for want ads on digital was a matter of creating a winning user experience. 

“The kind of person who is our kind of person values accuracy and timeliness in everything they consume,” Thompson said.

“Legacy print media was obsessing about the finer points of monetization, when they should have been focused on making sure the experience people have with you can be really superlative.”

2. Good journalism matters

In the first quarter of 2017, the paper gained 308,000 net digital subscribers, which editors and executives attributed to interest in the Trump administration. This time around subscribers were attracted by coverage of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the United States Supreme Court and the anonymous op-ed by a senior Trump administration official.

Trump may constantly decry media outlets like the New York Times as “fake news” but his casual relationship with the truth seems to have benefited established news organisations. 

3. Innovation doesn’t need to be costly
Not every newsroom has a New York Times budget, but that doesn’t mean that innovation is beyond your reach. Some of the ideas implemented by the NYT seem fairly simple, such as building digital channels around their classic content, like cooking and crosswords. 

You may not be able to innovate on the scale of the Times, but there are ways to revive your brand without breaking the bank. For example, using social media tools (like Facebook live or Instagram) to augment regular coverage. It’s all about researching what has been successful for other outlets and adjusting those ideas to suit your resources. The key thing is not to follow trends blindly. Use what works for your brand and your particular audience. One thing is certain: not innovating will not help your cause and may even lead to your demise. 

4. Stay the course
The NYT’s current success did not come overnight. It was a matter of trial and error. If you have a valuable offering, it will eventually triumph. Don’t flog a dead horse but don’t be defeated by failure either. The Times underwent several changes before it found the right formula. 

In 2013, digital revenues made up 18.1% of Times circulation. Today it comprises 38.4%, according to data compiled by Joshua Benton in an article from the Nieman Lab

At a time when new media organisations are cutting staff, the Times is hiring. 
Benton writes: “A common goal in newspaper circles a few years ago was to someday be able to make enough money in digital to cover the cost of the newsroom. Well, at this point, the Times could pay for the newsroom two times over with just digital money. Which is probably why that newsroom keeps growing — the Times reported it now employs 1,600 journalists, an all-time high.”

He further advises: “Take 98 percent of whatever energy you devote to worrying about the future of the Times and rechannel it into worrying about your local daily, which is very likely approaching existential crisis.”

Content by TMTV Media 
Image by StevePB via Pixabay


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