Jim Schachter, associate managing editor at "The New York Times", on his newspaper's strategy in the Internet and social media revolution.
Jim Schachter, associate manging editor at "The New York Times", what's going to happen to print?
That was Schachter's punditry-dismissing response to the first question that is important to ask him. Schachter, who will visit Israel to attend the 2011 "Globes" Israel Business Conference and participate in the "Media in times of crisis" session, is part of a rare success story - the ability of the world's most important print media institution to develop a successful economic model, creating the necessary online alternative, while enabling the print product to thrive.
Speaking to "Globes" from his office in New York, Schachter says he does not expect print media to disappear. Insofar as it depends on "The New York Times", Schachter won't let that happen.
"Our strategy is to keep the print medium in existence as much as possible, at least in the foreseeable future, because it's a serious source of advertising for us," Schachter says. "Nonetheless, and it is complicated, we won't let it be an obstacle to the digital venture. When we launched the digital subscription, the pricing was designed so that there would be a strong product, but no cannibalism of the print edition. We recently even reported a rise in the Sunday print edition, as people realized that this was the best price. The idea is to try to make everything work together, and then we'll see the best business outcome."
"Globes": What does the new reader want?
Schachter: "Different people like to receive their news in completely different places. Just as television did not wipe out books or radio, there is no reason to assume that the Internet will kill print."
The latest revolution at "The New York Times" began after the great crisis of 2008. A year later, the paper doubled its price at newsstands in order to reposition itself as a high-quality paper that was worth buying, thereby compensating for the drop in distribution.
In March 2011, "The New York Times" launched its digital subscription program - the paywall. After just four months, the paper had 224,000 digital subscribers who paid for access to the newspaper's website. There were also 100,000 users financed by Ford Motor Company's Lincoln cars unit and the print edition's almost 800,000 subscribers.
"The New York Times" is one of the few content providers in the world that earns money from Internet users, and it is expected to report thriving business for 2011. Schachter is playing an important role in the revolution, as the man responsible for a large part of the projects aimed at expanding the newspaper's online operations.
Perhaps it's possible to crack the riddle of the business model only if you are "The New York Times", and it isn't possible for just any print product.
"Today's situation vindicates the strategy of "The New York Times" to continue to invest in journalism, instead of cutting and cutting. Many of our competitors across the US only cut and cut again, and thought that the right strategy was to decide what to put on the homepage, and to ensure that more and more people saw it.
"I think that the big question is whether to give the content online, but a situation has resulted in which there is no difference between one online paper and the next. We established journalism that can only be obtained from us. There are also many aggregator sites, which place social content inside and out.
"I see "The New York Times" as more important than "The Huffington Post", but I humbly submit that I can't know what to expect in the future. You're right in that if you don’t have a great product with exceptional reporting, for example, that's something that will stand out online."
Distraction or help?
You mentioned "The Huffington Post" and its kind. Do they pose a threat to "The New York Times"?
"No one had heard of "The Huffington Post", and they built a brand on the basis of the product. In the case of "The New York Times", by contrast, the significance of the name would have been diminished if we hadn’t kept the promise. Many names have been emptied of content. The name alone doesn’t do the work. As for the threat, I don’t think so. If you put it in terms of threat, there are threats everywhere.
"The clearest threat comes from smartphones and tablets," Schachter says, "where more and more people find material. I travel by train, and now see nearly everyone hooked up to these devices, and it's worrying.
"The threat comes from the direction of everyone who competes with us for the readers' attention. Even Angry Birds, for that matter, because it consumes people's time. Our commerce people have to pay attention to so many competitors, with many of whom we have business relations. They have to ask, 'Is Apple a threat? Is Google? Is "The Wall Street Journal"?"
Schachter, a New Yorker and father of four, worked as a correspondent and editor at newspapers across the US before coming to "The New York Times", where he launched the newspaper's first electronic book.
How has the life of a journalist changed in the era in which social networks have taken the place of newspapers as a source of information?
"Journalists have many more primary sources than in the past, but this brings many challenges. After all, there's a big difference between a Twitter text and real talk between people. Collecting information and obtaining feedback from the public has become easier with social tools.
"It's hard to say which is greater, the distraction or the assistance. These things take up your time, but a presence on a social network helps you create a journalist brand to attract sources. In any event, we're not talking about replacing the journalist's work. The journalist cannot but see this as a luxury enabling him to undertake a wider investigation."
Does this create a new type of journalism, possibly more superficial?
"People will always say 'It was better then'. When I started out, the old time correspondents said that we didn't leave our desks and did everything by phone. Now it's become, 'Why don’t you pick up the phone and talk with someone?' The lazy will always be lazy."
Do you encourage more senior correspondents to use new-media tools?
"We haven’t deliberately marched anyone into this world, but we allowed those who were there to serve as a model. We set up a social media team that works on this and is at the center of the newsdesk. There is no direct link between the age of a correspondent and his or her technological adaptation. Nicholas Kristof, for example, is no longer a kid, and he's a rock star on Twitter because of who he is."
How do you find young reporters?
"I visit journalism schools and find an amazing number of 21-23 year olds whose goal in life is still to write 11,000 words for "The New Yorker". They think that that is why they're going to journalism school. Nevertheless, in general, that seems an unrealistic ambition to me. But I wouldn’t replace a reporter who takes a year to write a deep story. That investigative reporter isn't a luxury for a paper, but a basic part of it."
In Israel, we are seeing the place of the investigative reporter shrink. The economic situation doesn't allow the stamina for a reporter to provide one story a year.
"If that is the case, it's a great loss to society. I suspect that enough things are happening in Israel that ought to be investigated. In the US, a whole world of freelance reporters has grown up who do investigations that established newspapers don’t do.
"One of the things that should come about - and I believe that it will happen - is that there should be more platforms for these reporters to find a place. There are rich patrons, there are people who organize together. There are organizations that are growing to finance public news rooms.
"The way that newspapers used to carry out investigations has lost its form. Many journalists have lost their jobs, but it's premature to say that the sky has fallen, and it's necessary to find a way to continue to do better reporting and better businesses. In the US today, there are more and more Congressmen with no one reporting on their activities to the public because the local papers are firing correspondents."
Have you heard about the new libel law that passed first reading in Israel?
"Yes. We spoke about it last Saturday at the synagogue."
Are you coping with threats to freedom of speech as well?
"Looking around the US, it's hard to say that there is a problem with the right to free speech. We're seeing Occupy Wall Street protests. There are reasonable people who are taking the trouble to examine whether the Supreme Court and Congress have given a stronger voice to money in the market of public opinion, and whether there is a proper place for freedom of expression. I think that you must let newspapers be a significant power that will balance the valium of the rich and politics. I fee that we are at greater risk because of the restrictions on human rights."
Published by Globes [online], Israel business news - www.globes-online.com - on December 4, 2011
© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2011
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