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May 8, 2019, 6 a.m.
Business Models

The New York Times launches its (evidence-driven, non-judgy) Parenting vertical, with an eye toward making it a subscription product

“We wanted to be as useful as possible to people in as many different situations as possible.”

Over about five years, The New York Times developed its Cooking product from a bunch of unmonetized recipes floating around its website, to a free website and app, to a paid app and vibrant community. With Parenting, a product launched in beta Wednesday after about a year in development, the Times has similar ambitions.

“We’re starting with a mobile-optimized responsive site, learning that the content is what people need and want first, before we consider moving to a native app,” said Youngna Park, Parenting product lead. “But that’s definitely on the horizon. We’re building toward being a subscription product.” A weekly Parenting newsletter that launched last month has already exceeded expectations, pulling in more than five times as many subscribers as expected (nope, they’re not sharing actual numbers).

As any parent knows, the internet can be an absolutely horrendous place to find parenting advice. In the lead-up to launch, the Times Parenting team (which includes editorial lead Jessica Grose, who was previously the founding editor of Lenny Letter; Park; director of content strategy Farah Miller; design lead Sooyeon Kim; tech lead David Yee; and product management lead Vhanya Mackechnie) asked parents (via surveys and in-person interviews) what they were looking for that they hadn’t found elsewhere. “We heard from a lot of parents that they didn’t have a reliable source about the ways that their lives and identities could change,” Grose said. “We felt like there was a lot of good, meaty service content that we could give parents on that front, that builds on the Times’ great content in that area already — in Smarter Living, in Claire Cain Miller’s reporting for The Upshot.”

“The thing we heard again and again was that parents were just so overwhelmed by information,” said Park. “They would Google products in the middle of the night, and end up deep in these forums, and they just weren’t sure who to trust.”

The team is aiming for its product to appeal to as broad an audience as possible. That means including fathers. “Most parenting products are either implicitly or explicitly geared toward mothers,” Grose said. “We’re making a lot of design and framing choices out of the gate, to hopefully make it a non-gendered site.” Also, many parenting products are implicitly or explicitly aimed at upper middle class parents; this won’t be, they say, despite the Times’ upmarket demographic and the desired endpoint of a paid product. “We really wanted to make sure we were speaking to parents in a variety of situations,” Grose said. For instance, the team is launching several guides about parental leave over the next few weeks, and “they address parental leave in a variety of situations,” Grose said. “It’s one thing if you have paid leave and you work for a big corporation; it’s another if you’re paid by the hour, or if you’re a freelance worker trying to cobble something together, or if you work for a startup or another small company thiat is not covered by FMLA. We wanted to be as useful as possible to people in as many different situations as possible.”

This practice extends, too, to parenting philosophies. The internet has “really created a false dichotomy between ‘natural’ and evidence-driven parenting,” Grose said. “In most cases, what the research actually shows is that there are many good and safe and valid ways to raise your children, and we are not making a moral value judgment on whatever information we want to give you.” She notes that vaccination is not one of those cases — “science is very clear, you should vaccinate your children” — but when it comes to areas like feeding, sleep, and birth, where there isn’t one right answer and where different approaches work for different people, the product will include guides to multiple paths.

One thing Parenting will not include, at least not yet: comments. “When we did our research, what we heard from almost everyone was how negative and judgmental and unpleasant most of the online communities were for them around parenting,” Grose said. So the team is moving slowly, starting out by encouraging some discussion on social platforms (like this new Instagram account) and seeing how things go. “Hopefully, we can come up with something [on social] that is helpful and generous — and doesn’t make readers come away feeling bad and upset,” Grose said. A Facebook group similar to the Cooking one isn’t inevitable, but it could happen at some point down the line.

POSTED     May 8, 2019, 6 a.m.
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