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by Tom Wentworth
Over the weekend, I read the 97-page leaked New York Times Innovation Report, a manifesto for helping the Times become a more competitive business in the disrupted publishing space. While the Times is still winning at quality journalism, it has failed to get content to its readers. Its content is often being re-packaged and consumed by other publishers like Huffington Post, or is being consumed in new ways like Flipboard. And digital publishing startups like Vox Media are more agile, and aren't beholden to the print publishing timelines of the past which limit timely responses to breaking news.
In one cited example, the Innovation Report noted that there are more than 14.7 million articles in the Times' archive, and other publications are more effective at re-using their content - a phenomenon the report refers to as being "Gawkered."
Put simply, the Times was getting disrupted by more agile, innovative competitors.
I was honestly floored at the candidness and transparency of this report. In many ways it paints a dire picture for the venerable publisher, however after reading the report you can't help but feel that the Times will turn it around. The recommendations in the report are clear and actionable. And let's face it, the Times isn't alone in facing the prospect of digital disruption. The stories of Borders, Blockbuster, Polaroid, Circuit City and others are well documented by Brian Solis, who calls their failure to adapt Digital Darwinism.
One of the key recommendations in the New York Times Innovation Report was to "Map a Strategy to Make the Newsroom a Digital First Organization". The idea is that the Times must operate at the speed of digital, which requires a completely different approach to publishing. The report articulates the need for a balanced strategy, because the Times traditional print business is still healthy however, the need for the creation of a real-time "newsroom of the future" is clearly expressed.
It seems the key to success is adopting what the Times calls a "digital first" approach to business. Digital is a fundamental disruption to everything in modern business. It transforms how we market, sell, and support our customers, delivering increased revenue and better customer satisfaction. It lowers costs and improves margins. Every business process is being radically transformed by digital, including something as fundamental as the first amendment to the US Constitution. Digital enabled the White House to transform citizen engagement by allowing citizens to petition the government online, creating a new level of transparency (and a few really funny petitions).
The New York Times Innovation Report should serve as a warning to CEO's. No business or job role is immune. Digital transformation isn't something the marketing team will figure out. The Innovation Report just made digital transformation a boardroom conversion, which is exactly where it needs to be.