Quality content a constant amid massive change

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Quality content a constant amid massive change

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Mark Thompson

Mark Thompson, the president and chief executive officer of The New York Times Company, gave a speech on Monday as the first speaker of the JoongAng Media Conference, an event commemorating the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the JoongAng Media Network. The Know Way Out media conference addressed the crises the media industry currently faces and suggested a new direction for the years ahead. The following are excerpts of Thompson’s speech:

Each day, close to 14,000 copies of the English-language Korea JoongAng Daily are circulated along with a copy of the International New York Times. And, more recently, the editors of the masthead we are honoring today, JoongAng Ilbo, have begun to select articles from The New York Times on a regular basis for translation to the Korean language so that their loyal and informed readers can experience the very best of world journalism. We are enormously proud to count the JoongAng Daily among our partner newspapers. ...

The news business today is changing so rapidly and in such unexpected ways that it requires us to think differently about what we do and be open to experimentation and change. We must adapt to new technologies, new business models, and new forms of consumer behavior. I will address how we are doing all of this at The New York Times in just a moment.

But, while we are very focused on change and transformation, we also devote an enormous amount of time and resource to something that needs to endure in order to ensure our continued success.

That is a commitment to a particular vision of great journalism - truthful, insightful, fearless journalism - utterly free from commercial influence.

In an era of increasingly commoditized information, this has become a point of great distinction for us.

This tradition dates back to 1896 when Adolph Ochs bought The New York Times. He famously said that his intention was ‘to give the news impartially, without fear or favor, regardless of party, sect, or interests involved.’

And that will always remain the aspiration of The Times; 120 years later, it is still our central mission and we’re working hard to adjust and transform our business model to support the world’s most ambitious journalism.

So in this time of rapid change, how do we do that?

Well for one, we’ve adapted our strategy and our business model.

Our strategy is intrinsically cross-platform. We’re going to be living in a world of print and desktop and tablet and smartphone and no doubt other devices for years to come. Already most of our regular users read The Times on more than one platform. Using the platforms to support each other - through the configuration of subscription offers, say; innovating on all of the platforms, including print; but also focusing on what each platform does best and optimizing for that: This is what a cross-platform strategy means.

And, our business model is based on multiple revenue streams. Our revenue in the case of both print and digital has moved over time from an historic reliance on advertising to a point where in 2012, for the first time, consumer revenue overtook advertising revenue. That trend has continued.

The New York Times Company today is the combination of a still highly cash-generative, but now mature print business, and a rapidly growing digital business.

It’s that digital business that I will focus on now.

As you know, we launched our digital subscription model back in 2011 and we’ve seen strong and steady growth ever since. In late July of this year - less than four and a half years after launching - we hit a major milestone, one million digital-only subscribers. And this number is in addition to 1.1 million subscribers who pay us for the print New York Times and get access to digital. It’s interesting to note that almost 90 percent of these print customers authenticate their accounts and use our digital assets.

This addition of one million paying digital only customers is an extraordinary accomplishment for our digital consumer business and it puts us in a unique position among global news providers. We believe that no other news organization in the world can boast digital subscriber numbers like ours or comparable digital subscription revenue.

But we want to keep growing and expand our reach further, particularly overseas. The international audience is the richest target for digital subscription growth. In sheer numbers, it’s a very big pool to fish in. About 18 months ago, only 10 percent of our digital subscribers came from outside the United States. Today, they represent more than 13 percent of a larger total. We have an ongoing effort to further grow our global audience and convert additional subscribers.

Our relationship with our readers has always been at the heart of our unique advantage. The challenge we face today is finding new readers and deepening that relationship so that we become an essential part in the lives of the world’s most curious and influential people.

Beyond our focus on international audiences, we are working to better anticipate the needs of our existing readers and present them with more relevant and useful content, products and services and to meet them where they are.

Our top priority is to support and develop our own website and our apps so we can provide the best, most comprehensive experience of The Times for our loyal readers. And, as you may have read and heard, we are also experimenting in order to expand the reach of our journalism to some third-party digital products and platforms.

We’re working with Facebook on Instant Articles; with Apple on their recently launched News App and even with Starbucks on their mobile app. We are approaching all of these relationships with optimism and with caution. We see each as a great way to get people who are less engaged with our brand to become more so. We’re embracing a spirit of experimentation that I believe is critical not just for The New York Times, but for all news organizations as we move further into our digital futures.

You will have surely heard about our Innovation Report, first leaked, then published last year. The Innovation Report was an incredibly smart document, commissioned by our newsroom. It was a candid assessment of our digital transformation and included insightful recommendations.

I’m very proud to say that as an organization we have embraced and implemented almost all of the report’s recommendations and we are a better organization for it.

While “the wall” still firmly remains between our journalists and the commercial aspects of our enterprise, in particular advertising, we’ve brought much of the organization closer together. The newsroom works in tandem with product, technology, marketing and other parts of what had traditionally been thought of as the “business side” of the organization. This is necessary as we develop new products and services to meet the needs of our readers. ... Digital is where our future lies so we must ensure that our digital report, and the digital experience for readers, is of equal quality. We must give our readers the best version of our journalism when they want to read it - and where they want to read it.

So while we are in the midst of a massive program of change, it is a change that is directed at nurturing and enhancing something that doesn’t need to change: an idea about the value of high-quality journalism that dates from the early years of the paper but which our readers tell us matters to them just as much today as it ever did.

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