Newspaper Dinosaur’s Innovation Dilemma?

Just checked out the New York Times “Innovation Portfolio” and am really impressed. The big idea seems to be to surround news with a rich context of background information like animated location info, witness video and audio records, encycopedic knowledge etc etc. The above linked presentation is clearly targeted at advertisers and for every feature they provide page views and the average time visitors of that feature spent on

This is certainly not the new business model for the battered newspaper industry that everybody is hastily looking for. And Bill Keller, the executive editor, is the first to admit it as you can tell by this speech (links to Nieman Lab blog) he gave to his digital newsroom staff on October 21 when he had to announce more job cuts. But it’s a good way of leveraging the benefits of the big news organization over the small one: the overabundance – not to say redundancy – of content that can be thrown at the visitor to make him stay as long as possible.

Impressive as the Times’ feature set is, it’s still suffering from what I’d call a “dinosaur’s innovation dilemma”. They still get something fundamentally wrong about the Internet and look at their pages like they were printed paper. The argument vis-a-vis advertisers is that these additional features offer additional advertising space and increase the overall stickyness of the site.

But if the visitors stay longer and that means they just look at 30 different ads instead of 12, what’s the benefit? If the Times offered more than just the old web equivalents to magazine ads, outdoor posters and TV commercials … but they don’t as you can tell by one look at their advertising format library.

If they looked not at the real estate of their pages but at the visitor’s interests and the stream of news she consumes, new advertising formats would emerge as natural for the web environment. For instance, where is the “follow-me ad”? A brand could easily follow me around the page, build a story over several pages, or even interact with me and my news interests – thereby raising the likelihood of my noticing and, if relevantly placed, clicking it.

So, it’s not the re-invetion of the news business and it’s likely not a lightsaber in the battle over the advertising cake either. Looking at the Times’ ongoing internal debate over whether to charge for its web content, however, beefing up the product before sticking a price tag on it sounds like a decent idea. That leaves us with a few open questions: like, does a richer but not necessarily deeper experience of a news story represent more value to the reader?; and, how fast can a rich news context be provided before the news is no news anymore? But these are questions that will find their answers in the praxis.

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