11 lessons about innovation from the New York Times

The BBC Newsroom. Currently peaceful. And sometimes less peaceful.

Whilst doing some research at work on innovation within the Publishing industry, a colleague of mine found a leaked report from the New York Times from March this year (the full article is at the end of this page).

At 94 pages, it’s a must-read for anyone within Publishing. I took 11 key points from the document:

  1. (page 16) Hallmarks of disruptors… number 4: “Initially inferior to existing products.” This is so true. Almost every time we work on a new innovative project, there will always be someone criticising that product A does things better, or product B is more comprehensive. The answer is twofold – firstly, you can have something more superior, but it will take a lot longer and cost a lost more money; and secondly, it’s part and parcel of developing something new. Remember Twitter’s outages? Remember how basic Facebook looked?
  2. Only a third of NYT readers visit the homepage. Just think of the effort in designing the homepage! Google is great at providing users links directly into articles, and users share articles not homepages. This is the proof.
  3. (Page 36) Technology should elevate journalists, not frustrate them. Fix internal systems and issues to make it easier for journalists, then start proposing new gizmos. This will free up time to think about the bigger (strategic) picture (page 72).
  4. (Page 42) Read the example tags for a sample list of classifications. It’s a great starting point.
  5. (Page 43) “At ProPublica journalists must tweet 5 times about every story they produce.” Other websites (competitors to NYT) can’t publish a story without tweeting it first. Disagree with “Build it and they will come?” – this is the year 2014 answer – broadcasting on social media.
  6. Think ‘platform’ all the time. For example have a section of a local site for local churches to have microsites, or host a local photography competition on the site, or create a local sports events section.
  7. (Page 53) TED were concerned that the NYT will create its own conference programme, whilst the NYT were thinking about how to increase readership! A lovely anecdote, but one that all businesses can spend some time thinking about – “How do our competitors view us?”
  8. (Page 59) What does “digital first” really mean? It shouldn’t just mean releasing to digital first. Digital first should be a complete strategy of how to organise and produce a web and mobile product, which also has (or may have) a printed version the next day.
  9. (Page 66) “product first, department second“. Create a customer centric organisational structure, which often means having the right team in place. Sometimes a product manager can help facilitate a new initiative.
    Some lovely additional extracts from the report about the problems with the opposite organisational behaviour:

    • Some developers weren’t allowed into the newsroom!
    • One developers asked to attend brown bag lunches and wasn’t allowed. (The point here is that good developers are often intrigued by the business model).
    • Have key, friendly, contacts (point person) between groups
    • Rotate staff between departments, without fear of returning
    • Communicate success. Technologists are often more interested in the success of the business than personal financial reward.
    • Have an internal structure that when big news breaks, staff know who to go to, to make a bigger announcement.
    • Hold regular Reader Insight sessions across departments
    • Make personal objectives relevant. Page 87 reads “…end of year annual performance reviews lead with frequency of page one articles”…. but only a third of readers look at the homepage. Set social following as an objective, or average time on a journalist’s articles – essentially, traffic drivers.
  10. (Page 72) Some people need thinking time. Like all businesses, you need people who have time for other staff to go to, and to think about the bigger, more strategic objectives. These people should create weekly emails of best practice from other organisations (not just competitors or others within the industry).
  11. (Page 75) “The right way to fail” – announce failures within an organisation, making it clear what was learnt, and then fully shut down the programme, not keep ‘ghost operations’ remaining to save face. “Failing is like weeding the garden!”

And here’s the full document:

The Full New York Times Innovation Report by Amanda Wills, Mashable

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