Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
The New York Times is trying to make VR films that aren’t one-offs, and that keep readers coming back
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
Aug. 22, 2011, 2:30 p.m.

The NYT’s new education site with WNYC will be collaborative, experimental…and meter-free

Visits to SchoolBook won’t count against the Times’ paywall, in part because the site aims to reach out to NYC students and parents.

This morning, The New York Times and WNYC announced a new collaboration: SchoolBook, a site for news, data, and conversation about New York City schools. Slated to launch September 7, the site will feature not only reporting from Times and WNYC education reporters, but also aggregated content from the local school-info resources GothamSchools and Inside Schools — an effort that will amount to, a press release promises, “customized pages for each of the 1,700 pubic schools and 800 private schools in the city.”

It’s a fascinating collaboration. And one of the more intriguing elements of SchoolBook is the fact that access to it won’t count against users’ monthly digital article tallies. Which is a rare move for a subscription strategy that, while porous and relatively lenient, encompasses almost every piece of content the Times produces. (DealBook and the Times’ Learning Network blog are also exempted from the meter.)

In an interview earlier this afternoon, I spoke with Jodi Rudoren, the Times’ education editor, to learn more about the thinking behind the free.

Rudoren laid out five core reasons why the Times decided to give SchoolBook a rare meter exemption:

  • The site exists in partnership with WNYC. “With membership for them, and subscription for us,” things get complicated, Rudoren says.
  • SchoolBook will be “truly a two-way site.” Much of the site’s content won’t be articles that are written by a New York Times or a WNYC author: A lot of its content will, it is hoped, come from SchoolBook’s community of readers. In that sense, Rudoren says, the site’s content, on a structural level, simply doesn’t work well with a digital subscription model. There’s also the fact that much of that content won’t necessarily consist of traditional articles or even blog posts; the team will be experimenting with narrative as much as with collaboration and conversation.
  • Much of the site’s content will be data-driven. There, as well, there’s a structural disconnect between product and payment: Perusing data, Rudoren points out, doesn’t necessarily compute with subscription-model tabulations.
  • SchoolBook, with its focus on collaboration and its emphasis on community aggregation, is a big experiment — both for the Times and for WNYC. “This is totally new,” Rudoren says. And while it’s a product, it’s also trying to be a community. Charging for access, to an extent, violates the spirit of both.
  • There’s an element of community outreach to the site, more than there is to a typical piece of Times content. “The public school population in New York City is by and large poorer,” Rudoren notes. She and her colleagues and collaborators want to reach the people most directly affected by the schools — the kids, their parents — freely, in every sense, without concern that the meter might turn potential readers and contributors away. At least, and especially, at the outset, the team wants to do community outreach in a “pure, everyone-can-participate sort of way.”

Those reasons may seem straightforward and, altogether, pretty obvious; that doesn’t mean, though, that they weren’t the subject of internal debate at the Times. The paper, after all, “is serious about its digital subscription model,” Rudoren points out. It has to be vigilant about the kind of content it exempts from its meter. But SchoolBook, at least to start, needed to be free, Rudoren says. “It was fairly critical to the parameters of the project.”

POSTED     Aug. 22, 2011, 2:30 p.m.
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
The New York Times is trying to make VR films that aren’t one-offs, and that keep readers coming back
With its new Pluto-focused project, upcoming episodic series, and experiments with “meditative VR,” The Times is experimenting with different applications for the new technology.
Newsonomics: Can a Bezos buddy act help fend off Gannett’s bid for Tribune?
Tribune Publishing’s Michael Ferro says he wants to bring The Washington Post’s Arc CMS to its newspapers. Is that a grasp at credibility or a model for other news companies to outsource their tech stacks?
Die Welt’s analytics system de-emphasizes clicks and demystifies what it considers a “quality” story
Every story’s performance reduced to a single score: a reductionist take on journalism or a way to make a news organization’s values concrete?
What to read next
0
tweets
From Nieman Reports: Why your news site should be more readable for the visually impaired
Over eight million Americans have trouble with their vision. Here’s how newsrooms can (and should) design with them in mind.
0A new podcast from Mic and The Economist aims for a global perspective on the 2016 election
“Part of the appeal here is that this an unexpected combination. But I think we’d argue that we’re not that different,” said Economist deputy editor Tom Standage.
0The New Yorker Today is the magazine’s new iPhone app for its online articles (plus cartoons)
The app will be free for a time while The New Yorker figures out how many articles readers can access before hitting the paywall.
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Hacks/Hackers
The Chronicle of Higher Education
Upworthy
Grist
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism
El Faro
Global Voices
Mashable
Alaska Dispatch
Quora
Plaza Pública
The Tyee