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May 29, 2014, 6:24 p.m.
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LINK: www.nytimes.com  ➚   |   Posted by: Joshua Benton   |   May 29, 2014

If you want to do something newsworthy at The New York Times and not have people notice, I guess the best thing to do is to put it on Times Insider. That’s the special newsroom-backstory blog available only to those who’ve been upsold to Times Premier, the ten-bucks-more-than-normal premium tier the paper debuted this spring.

I say that because I haven’t seen anyone tweet or otherwise mention this post that went up a couple hours ago on a very newsworthy topic: how the Times’ new top editor, Dean Baquet, is responding to the leaked Times innovation report in his early days in the job.

That report held particular ire for the print-centric nature of the Times’ daily meeting schedule, which is largely structured around picking the stories that will make Page 1 of the print edition. Apologies for the long blockquote:

The habits and traditions built over a century and a half of putting out the paper are a powerful, conservative force as we transition to digital — none more so than the gravitational pull of Page One.

nytimes-page-oneSome of our traditional competitors have aggressively reorganized around a digital-first rather than a print-first schedule. The health and profitability of our print paper means we don’t yet need to follow them down this path. But it is essential to begin the work of questioning our print-centric traditions, conducting a comprehensive assessment of our digital needs, and imagining the newsroom of the future. This means reassessing everything from our roster of talent to our organizational structure to what we do and how we do it.

[…]

The newsroom is unanimous: We are focusing too much time and energy on Page One. This concern — which we heard in virtually every interview we conducted, including with reporters, desk heads, and masthead editors — has long been a concern for the leadership.

And yet it persists. Page One sets the daily rhythms, consumes our focus, and provides the newsroom’s defining metric for success. The recent announcement from Tom Jolly to focus the Page One meeting more on the web report is a great step in the right direction, but many people have voiced their skepticism that it will truly change our focus.

Here is a typical complaint from a Washington reporter who frequently appears on A1:

“Our internal fixation on it can be unhealthy, disproportionate and ultimately counterproductive. Just think about how many points in our day are still oriented around A1 — from the 10 a.m. meeting to the summaries that reporters file in the early afternoon to the editing time that goes into those summaries to the moment the verdict is rendered at 4:30. In Washington, there’s even an email that goes out to the entire bureau alerting everyone which six stories made it. That doesn’t sound to me like a newsroom that’s thinking enough about the web.”

The Times Insider post (thanks to eagle-eyed Joseph Lichterman for spotting it) says that a staff memo sent Wednesday takes a step in that direction. From the memo, from Baquet and Karron Skog, head of the news desk and home page during the day:

We are shifting the focus of the 10 a.m. meeting, away from the next day’s A1 to a more lively discussion about how to create a robust, comprehensive digital report for the day. To accomplish this, we will run the meeting with a keen eye across all of our nonprint platforms — NYTimes.com, NYT Now, mobile, social and INYT — bearing in mind that our aim is to get our best content in front of the most readers.

Karron will start the meeting with a quick overview of the morning home page, and share any interesting/pertinent analytics. She will discuss our lede options and photo plan for the morning.

We will identify the day’s main news targets and start the discussion with that desk. We will quickly brainstorm how we can build those stories out during the day, including input from photo, graphics, video, social, Upshot, etc.

[…]

Desk editors will then pitch their entire day’s digital report — news and enterprise — and include an idea of when stories will be ready to post (this will require short pitches, slugs and lengths). We will need to make some strategic decisions about when we roll out these offerings on the home page, mobile, NYT Now and to the INYT.

[…]

This is a work in progress and suggestions are welcome. We consider this a fresh start, and we hope you are as excited about this new direction as we are.

The memo says that, after the meeting, top editors will meet separately to “pick A1 targets so space can be ordered.”

The Times Insider post also features a Q&A with Skog about the change. I won’t just copy/paste the whole thing — if you like this stuff, pay the ten bucks a month! free trial! — but a few highlights:

[Is this being done because of the report?] The report, headed up by A.G. Sulzberger, the publisher’s son, repeated emphatically our need to keep moving toward being “digital first.” So it certainly played a role. But we’ve been trying to get here for a long time. The report was an exclamation mark.

[Was the old meeting setup holding the paper back?] “Holding us back” is maybe too strong. But it is true that many editors — though fewer and fewer — have felt as if the measure of their desks’ success rested primarily on whether their stories made the front page. This is the latest signal that it simply isn’t the case: Giving good play to an article on the home page and in our mobile feeds is just as important. Half our digital readers, by the way, are on mobile.

[What are peak hours on web and mobile?] Our web traffic starts to rise around 6 a.m. and peaks between noon and 1 p.m. Mobile peaks much earlier, around 8. For several years now, we’ve been much more attuned to publishing our best stories when we have the most readers. That does not mean other times are not good: We find our readers enjoy longer stories in the evening when they have more time. We get an uptick in traffic on Sunday night when people are disengaging from the weekend and getting ready to plow back into work. Some international stories might be best published in the time zone of that particular country or region. We try to think about all the ways we can get the stories most relevant to our readers posted when they want them.

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