Ad Age interviewed Jill Abramson on Thursday after she was named to be the next executive editor of the New York Times, and to me the most instructive of all of her comments were in the answer to the very first question listed: “What did you learn during your six-month stint last year diving deep into the online side?” Read it for yourself, but in summary the key things I see there are: She realized that the Times has been slow to get rolling online in the morning; editors at the Times remained so print-centric that they held back stories that were ready to go only because they wanted better play in print than they would get on that particular day; and the only competition that the Times traditionally had taken note of each night, when comparing what stories others were using, were the Washington Post and perhaps (so she says) the Wall Street Journal, but Politico, Huffington Post and Bloomberg, among others, needed to be in the mix.
Pointing this out is not to indict the Times. Remove the proper nouns and each of Abramson’s realizations probably has a parallel in pretty much any traditional newsroom, print or broadcast, across the country. If you don’t have any of them in your own newsroom, it’s probably a relatively recent development. How early each day (and how often) is your site breaking its own news rather than relying on wires or news culled from other sites? If you don’t have room in the next day’s paper or on the next broadcast for a story, do you hold it back entirely? If you hold it, how long are you willing to keep holding it to get the play you want? Do you ever put something on the website when you know the story is being held back from your traditional platform? What competitors do you keep track of? (Wrong answer: “This is such a small market, we don’t have any competitors.” You may not have competition for ads and professional competition for news, but everyone has competition of some kind for attention and local information, even if just personal blogs. If you don’t know who/what those are, you are missing your competition.)
To that I would add another set of questions. Abramson’s interview with Ad Age apparently didn’t touch on social media, but here also — although there are individual exceptions in the newsroom — the Times, like many traditional newsrooms, tends to lag. Until less than two weeks ago, for instance, the main Times account on Twitter was an automated feed. What does your newsroom do on social media (Facebook, Twitter, Digg, etc.)? Is there a single designated person, or do a number of people in the newsroom do it? Do you just send out links to your stories, or do you have exchanges with people?
It’s good to recognize how the Internet has changed the news cycle (your deadlines) and the news ecosystem (your competition), but unless you also have changed how you think about your audience and your approach to your audience, you still have a few steps to go.