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Pivoting an Icon: How The New York Times’ CEO Helped Lead The Company’s Evolution

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This event took place at Social Media Week in New York. You can get the SMW Insider Digital Subscription to access the full video of this event and 60+ other #SMWNYC sessions.

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“Our business model, essentially, is that we produce high quality journalism.”

At Social Media Week in New York, we heard from Mark Thompson, the CEO of the New York Times in a discussion with Toby Daniels, the Founder and Executive Director of SMW. Mark began his talk by telling us about his background, and his start in TV journalism with the BBC.

Even while working at the BBC, Mark acknowledged that The New York Times was “one of the very best newsrooms on the planet.” He noticed that The New York Times confronted the digital change the world saw with a different view than other American news outlets.

According to Mark, The New York Times “continued to produce great journalism. They doubled down on their investment in content, which was the better play.”

Next, Mark spoke about the strategy at The New York Times. He, and The New York Times, have realized that people are willing to pay for high quality content. In terms of user experience, he believes that every subscriber should feel like the content they receive is worth paying for, even if it’s free.

He believes that smartphones, in particular, enable companies with high quality to find deeply engaged users. In order to do this, “you need to become a destination, you need to start becoming a daily habit”.

“We stand for storytelling, and for arming people to begin a conversation – whether it be physical or on social media,” Mark said.

Speaking about the most engaged users and subscribers of The New York Times, Mark noted how they are ambitious, curious, intrigued by the rest of the world, and are open to new ideas.

Mark spoke about the new innovation that The Times was creating with their integration of VR. Referring to the VR cardboard headsets that The New York Times and GE sent out to a million of their subscribers, Mark noted that they were a “wonderful bringing together of a legacy distribution network,” and that they “brought a journalistic story to life.”

Mark and Toby also spoke about native advertising with The New York Times. Mark believes that their advertising needs to be interesting, and the content needs to be great. He noted how one of their branded VR pieces with GE even performed better than some of their other, non-branded pieces. Following the discussion on native advertising, they discussed data.

Mark referred to the basic data that The New York Times can’t live without as the “hygiene layer of data,” but he acknowledged how there are many other more complex forms of data that go into trying to provide users with the best experience possible. Despite this, Mark firmly believes that “people overstate the value of data; it sometimes becomes a substitute for thought.”

Mark and Toby then discussed the ability of The New York Times to be agile, and adapt to change. Mark believes that “Traditional, corporate, decision-making is not the right way to think about digital innovation.”

Mark concluded today’s discussion by saying that The New York Times “isn’t stuck with a traditional model that we are here to report the world, and the role of our readers is to mutely listen and learn. We recognize that this is about starting a conversation.”

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