NY Magazine on Innovation at the Times

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Aron Pilhofer, Andrew DeVigal, Steve Duenes, Matthew Ericson, and Gabriel Dance.
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Sure there’s been a lot of recent bad news about the New York Times Company, and newspapers coast-to-coast are pulling back coverage, filing for bankruptcy and closing. But there is also another story to tell.

New York Magazine has a piece in this week’s issue on the Times Multimedia, Graphics, Interactive Tech and R&D groups, titled The New Journalism: Goosing the Gray Lady. It details some of the organizational steps taken by the Times, in order to position itself for the day when the online product eclipses the print edition in reach, revenue and relevance.

Emily Nussbaum quotes Aron Pilhofer, the Times Interactive Newsroom Technologies group:

“The proposal was to create a newsroom: a group of developers-slash-journalists, or journalists-slash-developers, who would work on long-term, medium-term, short-term journalism—everything from elections to NFL penalties to kind of the stuff you see in the Word Train.” This team would “cut across all the desks,” providing a corrective to the maddening old system, in which each innovation required months for permissions and design. The new system elevated coders into full-fledged members of the Times—deputized to collaborate with reporters and editors, not merely to serve their needs.

This, I think, is the critical point for the future of newspapers and magazines; as I argued in the comments of Jason Santa Maria’s thoughtful post, The Death Throes of Print?:

Organizational structure and proximity matter, and go along way toward moving that “quaint add-on” [the web edition] into the core of the operation.

But you also have to have quality people dreaming the stuff up and executing it. And, you need management with the foresight to encourage and foster innovation, especially in the face of secular change and recession.

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