Open Letter to NYT: It’s Not About ‘Going Digital’

Earlier this month Public Editor piece Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times omsbudsman weighed in on the issue of the Times ‘going digital.’ She covered the leaked internal document lamenting the lack of ‘getting it’ at the NYT, the continuing changing economics of the news business and a pervasive feeling that all you have to do is ‘go digital’.

The alarm bells started going off with the first paragraph and before I had barely put my iPad down I had fired off my second letter to the editor in as many months.

Maybe my cranky old man gene is kicking in. Or maybe having seen this play many times, those of us in the new database business know that it’s not at all about just ‘going digital.’

Here are the main points of my letter:

1. The entire information provider space is facing these issues – news is not the first to do so and won’t be the last. It’s worth taking a wider view and going beyond discussing ‘going digital’

2. It’s not just the form change – it’s about the content: readers have changed – they want immediate direct, personal content that reflects the writer as much as the subject. It can still be authoritative, factual and serious – just don’t save your fun analogies for the Sunday opinion page.

3. It’s not just about the content either, it’s about creating information and then delivering it into the many and ever changing formats. A quick fix with the newly launched Opinion App isn’t going to cut it either. Instead it takes a real top-down product development rethinking. “What are we covering and why” … “and then how do we deliver it.” Much of the kerfuffle with the leaked document was about the front page mentality. A ‘digital’ mentality is just as bad – you have to separate the content from the form.

MarkLogic works with many of the leaders in the new information delivery space – one that is crossing boundaries and seeing players — big and small — radically changing their approaches.

Our customers, who are among the leaders in the information space, are focusing on:

  1. Fighting digital silos – or as Richard Chakin of Bloomsbury Press put it at the Berlin Publishing Forum ‘No digital ghettos’. Product development has to go across formats, technology needs to consolidate and aggregate content not spread it out. This is the number one use case for MarkLogic in Media -> bring together all my content and data so you can better deliver information to your audience.
  2. Fostering innovation within the organization – change is possible without having to burn everything down. Processes for creating innovation hubs alongside the core business let the organization nurture the ideas that will eventually become the norm while maintaining the old. Its not easy but it can be done.
  3. Looking for and investing in context. Knowing what the content is about and also the context of your readers and audience is now a critical asset for a media company. Semantic technology is the right model at the right time and its rapid rise in importance is because without meaning, bringing all that data together doesn’t really solve the problem.
  4. Looking for leaders who understand technology but who may not be ‘technology’ executives. The role of the CIO is expanding, some organizations are adding CTO and CDO roles. But the real leaders are building technical and information skills across the board with product leaders and CEOs well versed in the new terrain of content creation and consumption.

This isn’t to say that The New York Times has it wrong. Instead I think that they are starting to get it right. My letter closed with a the hopeful note that:

“The recent introspection at The Times will no doubt move the needle and I applaud Margaret and others for continuing to highlight the issue.”

This brings to light my last and very important point: these experiences are NOT unique to The New York Times and across the industry the level of open sharing of strategy, processes and product development ideas is at an all time high.

Welcome to the conversation NYT!– we hope to hear great things about your transformation to information provider and not just how you managed to ‘go digital.’