On Tuesday, the New York Times unveiled its "2020 report", a self-assessment by the newspaper of its ongoing operational progress, accompanied by a note by top editors Dean Baquet and Joe Kahn, which also presents the company's outlook on the future. Unlike previous years, when The NYT was worried that it was falling behind its digital competition like other liberal websites including Vox, WaPo, and BuzzFeed, this time the evaluation was more chipper, suggesting the NYT feels relatively good about its prospects.
Based on the report, the NYT's stated goal to double its digital revenue to $800 million by 2020 seems within reach, after $500 million in 2016, and an trend line shows that revenue from consumers has far outstripped ad dollars. Additionally, the Times now counts more than 1.5 million paying digital subscribers and more than 1m print subscribers.
“We are, in the simplest terms, a subscription-first business. We are not trying to maximize clicks and sell low-margin advertising against them. We are not trying to win a pageviews arms race,” the 2020 report said. “Our focus on subscribers stems from a challenge confronting us: the weakness in the markets for print advertising and traditional forms of digital-display advertising.”
And yet not all was good news, because in the report was a warning that budget cuts are coming, a notice which followed the newspaper's announcement several weeks ago that it would rent out floors in its headquarters to other companies to beef up its cash flow. To wit:
Some of these initiatives stem directly from consultations with the 2020 group; others result from the realities of the media business in a period of rapid change. Nothing can disguise the fact that the continued shift from print to digital demands a somewhat smaller and more focused newsroom.
There will be budget cuts this year. We will lay out the specifics in the coming weeks and months. We cannot pretend to be immune from financial pressures but we view this moment as a necessary repositioning of The Times’s newsroom, not as a diminishment.
The jobs impacted will be mostly in the editing vertical:
We must move away from duplicative and often low-value line editing. It slows us down, costs too much, and discourages experiments in storytelling. Backfielders, department heads, News Desk editors and, yes, the masthead spend too much time line editing and copy editing, moving around words with little true impact on a story. Copy editors, meanwhile, spend too much time editing and re-editing stories that should be posted quickly.
Yet in an ironic twist, it appears that Trump will lead to even more investing in the US, because the NYT announced it would invest some $5 million to cover Trump.
We are deeply committed to protecting our investment in the original newsgathering and storytelling that make The Times so indispensable in our readers’ lives. Our journalists reported from the ground in more than 150 countries last year, often at great personal risk. Our commitment to expert journalism will not waver. Instead we will focus cuts on the multilayered editing and production systems, a legacy of our newspaper traditions that remains much bigger and more complex than at our competitors.
To that end, you should know the company is investing more than ever in accountability journalism. As we explain later in this document, the business side will provide us an additional $5 million so we can produce even more coverage of the incoming Trump administration.
It adds that "even in these difficult financial times for our industry, the entire company has a commitment to this story. It is not only our mission. It is vital to our business. Our dominance on this story of a changing America will ensure our position as the essential news organization for years to come." It is unclear what would happen to this investment if Trump were to call out the NYT out as the next source of "fake news."
The biggest change coming to the NYT however, is that it is becoming more visual.
..The majority of our report is fairly traditional, and we should broaden the ways we tell stories. The broader mobile landscape is increasingly a visual one — think of Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube — and we know that our mobile audience wants Times journalism to incorporate visuals even more fully into our work. This will make our report better, but it will require significant focus.
The goal: to gain even more subscribers. "by focusing on subscribers, The Times will also maintain a stronger advertising business than many other publications. Advertisers crave engagement: readers who linger on content and who return repeatedly. Thanks to the strength and innovation of our journalism — not just major investigative work and dispatches from around the world but also interactive graphics, virtual reality and Emmy-winning videos that redefine storytelling — The Times attracts an audience that advertisers want to reach."
And now, after all that good news, if only the "2020 Report" also had an explanation why the company is vacating 8 floors in its HQ to generate "significant rental revenue."