No one will be shocked by the front page headline of the latest issue of Wired magazine titled: “The News in Crisis.” Equally ‘yawn-able’ infographics in the accompanying article inside show (a) the decline in news jobs for all media (10% in the past 10 years) and a generation gap where only 5% of 18-29 years olds get their news from print newspapers. Tell us something we don’t know, right? Yet, a sister article by writer Gabriel Snyder shines a light on how the venerable The New York Times is humping like never before to remain relevant.
Working in favor of the Times and other legitimate news outlets are the very times we are living in. As, while ‘fake news’ is a ridiculous term coined by the current administration to describe anything it does not agree with, social platforms all too often cater to scribes and sources who put forth opinions and conjecture that is not fact checked and certainly not news. Most rationale individuals want real journalism from credible news sources.. In the wake of the recent presidential election, in fact, the Times reported that subscriptions had surged to 10 times its usual numbers.
To remain viable, however, the Times knows it has to continue to build upon its digital platforms. In 2000, print advertising accounted for 70% of revenues, with digital just 1%. There was no digital news content at that time. In 2015, both digital and digital news encompassed 12% of revenues (24% total), with print advertising down to 28%. Since that time, the “paper” has continued to build upon its digital platforms to offer a wide range of multi-media programming. The centerpiece, or, starting point, is the print subscription. Readers are offered a small bit of ‘free’ content each month but then incentivized to pay for more news, information and fun. This includes a suite of apps, blogs and verticals on a range of topics with original content, akin to a Netflix or Hulu. There is Cooking and Crossword and, soon, Real Estate. Live streaming and text messaging are also utilized regularly for news and sports, and, the Times is also running virtual reality films. Regarding the latter, one early example has Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ben Solomon ‘embedding’ viewers with Iraqi soldiers battling Isis.
Is it working? Early returns are promising as more than 1.5 million people now pay more than $200 million for yearly subscriptions. Overall digital revenue is nearly $500 million. Perhaps as impressive as the Times on-going informational experimentation to raise readership and revenue, reports Snyder, is management’s willingness to ruffle the feathers of tradition and ‘prim and proper.’ The time-worn mantra: ‘The Times wouldn’t do that’ is headed the way of the Dodo Bird. And it has to. The new rallying cry? Evolve or die. It is a call that should be watched closely and imitated widely.