Looking at the recent ads for the New York Times premium subscription service, it seems to me that the end is near for this paper as we once knew it, and I’ll tell you why.

In the contracting and restructuring of the journalism industry, we’ve been looking at the New York Times as the great microcosm for the journalism industry as a whole. As my friend Maha will tell you, they are one of the last sources left for long-term investigative reporting and authoritative, thoroughly fact-checked information.

Their biggest challenge is that they don’t own these facts once they uncover them. All blog posts that references NYT articles are in direct competition for readership with NYT.

So in adopting a paid subscription service, what are the primary assets you’d have expected the NYT of the 1990’s to be flaunting? In depth news analysis? Access to primary sources? Archives of the print edition?

Well look at what we see instead on this subway ad: videos of ballet dancers; pretty charts and pictures; something called “popcasts (mp3)” which I can only assume is a focus group test tube baby focused mostly on Rihanna and Sarah Palin.

If this ad is indicative of their overall strategy (and if it’s not then they have other problems), then they are trying to compete in the distraction-sphere, and they have already lost. Why would people pay an investigative news organization for infotainment when so much of it is free? And how can an organization as large as The New York Times expect to be nimble enough to compete with Boing Boing or YouTube? They own a half-used building; when executives are incompetent they are demoted and kept at the same pay level due to old-boy cronyism.

A new media landscape requires change, yes, but to abandon a core competency, especially one that is as useful as NYT’s, is foolish. If they cannot compete on their own terms, there’s no way they will win.



One Comment to “RIP NYT”

  1. Maha 12 June 2011 at 11:49 pm #

    Basically, I agree that we should worry about them, but not quite as you lay out. I think it’s more the ‘other problem,’ that they are advertising something very different from what they aim to deliver and win on. So you have those images in the ad that suggest infotainment but then the tagline on that ad, and the whole campaign, is about being the finest journalism around. I think their problem is, they aren’t sure how to sell the serious stuff, what I call the spinach of news, without the candy of infotainment. It’s been done as a bundle for most of the newspaper history and it’s going to take news orgs time to figure out how to pitch ‘Buy the spinach, all by itself, it’s not even creamed or tasty, but it’s good for you.’ It’s still very unclear if anyone will pay for that, but basically that is what the NYT is selling, even if it’s not what they pitch.

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