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4 takeaways from The New York Times’ new digital strategy memo
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Nov. 30, 2011, 10 a.m.

How Time Inc. is preparing for a future in digital news with a j-school of its own

Through Time Inc. University, the publisher tries to keep employees up-to-date on the latest tools, techniques and transformations in the media business.

Apple has its own in-house university; so does McDonalds. Also on that list of corporate colleges: Time Inc. But instead of another institution to help the ambitious find a glide path to middle management, Time’s institution is more j-school than Hamburger U.

At the three-year-old Time Inc. University (imaginary mascot: The Fightin’ Henry Luces), the core curriculum is journalism, ranging from writing and the art of the interview to video storytelling and news on mobile devices. And digital courses make up the majority of the classes, as the company tries to keep staffers learning about the newest tools and techniques in the media universe. The 150-plus courses include topics like “10 Things You Need to Know to Run a Digital Business,” “The Beginner’s Guide to Mobile,” and “How to Get the Most Out of Breaking News Online.” All of the courses, which usually run as one-day sessions, are led by staff from within the company and are taught at Time Inc.’s HQ in New York.

Corporate universities are an old concept. At Pixar University, that means “a complete filmmaking curriculum, classes on painting, drawing, sculpting and creative writing.” Apple University, perhaps with more urgency than ever, strives to create a curriculum that shapes executives in the mold of Steve Jobs.

But unlike some corporate universities, Time’s program is not specifically reserved for or aimed at managers or executives — it’s wide open to anyone in any job across all their titles. Maybe that’s more community college than ivy, but it hints at a philosophical choice for a company with 115 magazines (21 here in the U.S.): That reinvention won’t happen in board rooms and corner offices alone. Time Inc.’s taking a dual approach, with training open to all as well as a track for executives. (Separate from Time Inc. U, the company holds Digital Labs events bringing in editors, presidents and other executives to meet with leaders in the world of tech, including Tim Armstrong from AOL, Jason Kilar of Hulu, and Stephanie Tilenius of Google, among others.)

All together, it sketches a picture of a company still heavily invested in the print business, trying to reposition itself from the bottom of the org chart to the top.

Fran Hauser told me the courses are about developing a kind of working knowledge of new media for people that can improve their jobs, if not their understanding of the industry. Hauser, president of digital for Time Inc.’s Style & Entertainment Group and Lifestyle Group, said a good chunk of the people taking the courses are in departments unconnected to the digital side of the business. Hauser taught the “10 Things” course and focused on areas like building an online audience, new methods of market research, and strategies for using social media. Hauser, who’s got experience in online media from previously running People’s digital division and Moviefone, said the following the latest tools and trends is critical, but changing the way people make decisions is what’s important.

“One of the things I talk about is it’s easy to become overly attracted to the shiny new toy. A lot of times we’ll be sitting in a room brainstorming and someone will inevitably bring up an idea around a new capability out there, but it’s always important to think about the consumer you’re reaching,” Hauser said.

The classes are also a form of knowledge sharing across different magazines. If a particular strategy spiked mobile traffic for Sports Illustrated, or a social media campaign increased followers for Entertainment Weekly, they all can get together in one room to trade secrets. Again, when you’re a company with more than 100 magazines spanning healthy cooking, personal finance, entertainment, and home repair, that can be a particularly thick web to cut through.

John Cantarella, president of digital for Time Inc.’s news group, said a number of the courses have a “this is how we did it” vibe that eschews theoretical talk for a more pragmatic approach. When found success with the work they were doing around social media it only made sense to share that with other magazines who could readily apply it to their own work, said Cantarella, who’s led a class called “Building an Audience Through Social Media.”

“We’re a big company, so it’s a question of how do you share information across lots of people,” Cantarella said. “How do you get people who work at This Old House Interactive with people at Time or Real Simple? It’s a great way to bring people together.”

Image by Cody Geary used under a Creative Commons license.

POSTED     Nov. 30, 2011, 10 a.m.
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