Culture change: overcoming a print vs. digital divide

When the New York Times Innovation Report leaked, it had the effect of accelerating a long process of culture change that began in 2005, when executive editor Bill Keller announced that the print and digital newsrooms would be merged. The Times has been preaching the doctrine of “platform neutrality,” he said. “But in practice most of us have been writing and editing newspaper articles, or taking pictures or making charts and graphs for the newspaper, while a few of us have been taking this work and adapting it for the Web.”

Keller said he was appointing a trusted deputy, Jonathan Landman, to bring the two staffs together. “By integrating the newsrooms we plan to diminish and eventually eliminate the difference between newspaper journalists and Web journalists.”

A big step came in 2007 when the Times moved into its new building and could house everyone together. (The web operations had originally been placed in a separate building.) Another came in 2010 when Jill Abramson was given a break from her duties as managing editor to immerse herself in the Times digital operations. “We really want this to be one newsroom, and it is part of the way there, not all of the way there,” Keller said at the time. “There is still a digital rhythm and a print rhythm, and they don’t feel synchronized.”

In other words, the culture of the Times was still that of a print newspaper.

 It was Jill Abramson who in 2013 asked Arthur Gregg Sulzberger to take a leave from the metro desk to head up “a creative team that will think up and propose new ways to expand our news offerings digitally.” That team produced the innovation report, which warned that the print rhythm was still intact and that competitors to the Times were in many ways racing ahead of it. The message was clear: the culture needs to change even more.



  • In February 2015 came another big moment in the long process of changing the culture of the Times. Executive editor Dean Baquet announced that the famous Page One meetings will no longer be about pitching stories for the print edition — long seen as the key internal metric for success — and will instead focus top stories for the digital platforms: web, mobile, social.

  • “It’s worth noting that the tradition of selecting Page 1 stories under the old system has long made The Times distinctive,” Baquet wrote in announcing the shift. “We are seeking to preserve the rigor of this process, but update it for the digital age. Desks will compete for the best digital, rather than print, real estate.”

  • About the innovation report, Joshua Benton, director of Nieman Lab, wrote: “I’ve spoken with multiple digital-savvy Times staffers in recent days who described the report with words like ‘transformative’ and ‘incredibly important’ and ‘a big big moment for the future of the Times.’ One admitted crying while reading it because it surfaced so many issues about Times culture that digital types have been struggling to overcome for years.”