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Feb. 18, 2021, 10 a.m.
Audience & Social

The New York Times’ new Slack app aims to deliver (non-depressing) Times stories to you while you work

The app is an experiment by The Times to get a better sense of how people are sharing Times journalism through their own Slack workspaces.

On Thursday, The New York Times launched a Slack app that’s designed to help foster conversations about Times stories where people already are — that is, in their existing Slack workspace.

The Slack app is part of The Times’ larger exploration into reaching new audiences, deputy audience director Anna Dubenko said.

“We need to understand how a Times reader, in their personal life, uses The New York Times in a professional context,” Dubenko said. “How are we useful to their lives, in their careers, in the ways they build company culture with their colleagues? … More and more people are working remotely. We need to understand the ways in which our coverage is useful to people in different contexts.”

If you feel a jolt of panic when you hear Slack’s knock brush notification sound — and already get too many news push notifications — don’t worry too much. The Times’ Slack app won’t send you breaking news alerts. Dubenko said her team is more interested in providing content that sparks conversation.

“There’s a certain kind of news that’s really exhausting and fatiguing and depressing,” Dubenko said. “[But] we’re also really good at telling really delightful stories. If you read that great real estate story about the tower in Midtown that billionaires live in, that’s just a fun read. I don’t think that’s the kind of news that fatigues people.”

The New York Times has experimented with Slack apps in the past. A Slack bot for the 2016 presidential election focused on a two-way conversation with readers, allowing them to submit questions that would be seen and responded to by Times staffers. (“Uh…Trump’s not going to win, right?”) An internal Slack app called Blossom, launched in 2015, helps Times staffers decide which stories to feature on social media.

The new app has three main features. First, it provides a daily recommended read that’s personally curated by one of the audience editors at The Times. You have to manually navigate to the NYT app in Slack to see it in the Home tab. Then, you can enter “/nytimes” into any Slack channel in your workspace to surface the recommended read there.

The second feature is a “Save for Later” button. If a colleague sends the day’s recommended read (or any other Times URL) to your workspace’s general channel, the button will appear underneath and you can save the story. You can then find your saved stories in your Read Later list in the app.

The third feature is sort of like a virtual water cooler. It identifies when one story has been shared in multiple public channels (The Times isn’t reading your DMs). If you paste a Times link into Slack and someone else in your workspace has already done so in a different public channel, it will alert you that it’s also been discussed in those other channels.

The idea, Dubenko said, is to help foster healthy conversations in the workplace. First, Dubenko, with the audience product team led by Scott Sheu, created a separate Slack workspace to test out the app. Once they wanted others to test it, they figured that installing it on the main New York Times workspace would be unproductive, given how many Times URLs are already shared there on any given day. Instead, they had the Wirecutter team test it out, because as a Times company, they share some volume of Times links and are experts in reviewing products.

Right now, the daily recommended read is the same for any Slack NYT app user. The one I get in my Nieman Lab Slack is the same as the one Dubenko gets in her NYT Slack. In a daily news meeting, Dubenko and her team discuss what story should be featured. One day it might be a longform story; another day, it might be one more focused on tech. Overall, they think about what stories would be both appropriate and interesting for the workplace. In the future, Dubenko said the team would like to personalize the reads to the user’s interests.

Andy Pflaum, the director of platform solutions for Slack, said that having an app integrated into Slack can help keep a user organized if they’re already referencing news stories often in their work conversations.

“One of the benefits is being able to bring relevant information and services to users where they’re doing that work with their teams, so that they’re not constantly hopping around to other applications throughout the day,” Pflaum said. “They can share [content] right there or collaborate and discuss around it immediately with their teams.”

The data that the Times collects is de-identified and aggregated for analytics purposes, so The Times can’t read public or private messages.

“We know if you’ve come in through a Read Later save or Recommended Read save,” Dubenko said. “That’s one of the benefits of the app. We can understand, with more granularity, how people are engaging with it — it’s not just like, ‘Somewhere, someone on Slack sent a link and clicked on it.'”

Other news organizations with Slack apps include Protocol, Nikkei, Fox News, Hacker News, and Anti-Racism Daily. Before moving to the Times, Dubenko worked at Digg, which has its own Slack app, so she had been thinking about Slack as a content sharing platform since she arrived.

“Early tests show that readers and users like it, but I think there’s a lot of opportunity for us to do all sorts of really neat things in the future that maybe tap into personalization and work with other parts of the building like Cooking, Games, and Wirecutter,” Dubenko said. “We just want to get this thing out in the world and see how you respond to it. This is by no means the final version of what the Times looks like on Slack.”

POSTED     Feb. 18, 2021, 10 a.m.
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