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April 17 2012

13:00

The New York Times’ Well blog gets more vertical with a redesign

What you might call the verticalization of The New York Times continues today with the relaunch of Well, the healthy-living section edited by Tara Parker-Pope. Like DealBook and Bits before it, Well has grown in prominence enough to get its own branded identity and look — one that stands out from the 60-plus other blogs the Times offers. (Compare its look to The Lede, The Caucus, or India Ink, which all use variations of the standard Timesian blog look.)

Well’s new look makes it look more like an independent website than another Times blog that might get linked from the nytimes.com front page now and then. Along with a single top story, the design promotes four editor-selected stories up high, pushes comment-heavy posts in the sidebar (“Well Community”), pushes tools, quizzes, and recipes up high, and lets readers slice Well’s content by subtopics (Body, Mind, Food, Fitness, and so on). Most stories get bigger and bolder art than the old design allowed; text excerpts are shorter, allowing more stories per vertical inch. Twitter and Facebook sharing tools are prominent on each post, even on the front page.

Like Bits and DealBook, Well’s new look and feel is more reminiscent of what we associate with a blog and not a topic section of a newspaper website. As with Bits, The New York Times logo is shrunken to a mere 123 pixels wide, greyed in the upper left corner; the Well logo gets the big, 540-pixel-wide play.

Along with the new look, Well is getting additional resources. Aside from Parker-Pope, Times writer Anahad O’Connor will join Well as a full-time reporter, and the site will still have writing from other Times contributors and staffers Jane Brody and Gretchen Reynolds.

The transformation of Well has been in the works for several months and was first announced by James Follo, the Times chief financial officer, during an earnings call in February, where he said the company’s digital strategy called for expanding “some current content to drive increased engagement levels and additional points of access and create some entirely new homes for content.”

Well, with its inclusive view on health including fitness, medical care, dieting and more, seems like a logical choice for the Times to try to build off their existing work to grow a new audience. It’s a topic area that has the ability to develop a following as well as attract advertisers; it’s been a pageview standout at the Times for years, with Well stories regularly hitting the most-emailed list.

When I spoke with Ian Adelman, director of digital design for the Times, he said it was important for Well to develop its own identity independent of the Times while still being associated with the paper. “That balance between giving room for that specific content to breath, exist, and surface more and maintaining a consistent presentation of the Times a is a little tricky,” Adelman said.

That’s why Well, like Dealbook and Bits, has what you might call “light branding” from the New York Times, and why the navigation bar and other visual cues found on the rest of NYTimes.com are mostly missing. It’s also why there’s more elbow room on the page, on the Well home as well as story pages, giving art, multimedia, or discussion from readers a its own prominence. Adelman said the design is informed by editorial needs and doesn’t follow the templates you find on the rest of the site. For sites like NYTimes.com, those common templates are useful because of the sheer volume of information that moves across their pages each day. But the newer microsites within the Times architecture require more freedom, Adelman said.

“When an entity is contained within the bigger shell of The New York Times, there’s a little less room for things that are unique to that content environment to surface and breath in ways that make sense,” he said.

What’s unique to Well is that the content may be more disconnected to the day-to-day news cycle than Dealbook or Bits, where analysis and essays are intermixed with daily reporting. Well has seasonal recipes, fitness tools, and health quizzes, the type of material that can easily be tied into a news cycle and trends. But it also has stories with a long shelf life that can draw eyeballs over extended periods of time. (A piece on what works when trying to lose weight is guaranteed Googlebait for years to come.) Adelman said they redesigned the site with that in mind. “There are a number of new features that will be added — things that are not so much about news, but about the Well experience and creating a platform for people to get that and stick around longer,” he said.

It’s likely Well is not the last section from NYTimes.com to be turned into its own mini empire. As the Times continues to work on its digital subscription framework, the incentives are stronger than ever to create dedicated audiences who want to keep coming back to a part of the site. The Times has a long history here: It was Abe Rosenthal back in the 1970s who expanded the print paper by adding so-called “soft sections” — Weekend, Sports Monday, Living, Home, and the like — that would appeal to specific niche audiences. That strategy, despite initial misgivings, has made the Times a lot of money over the years. So while building verticals online may be associated more with the Huffington Post, Gawker Media, or Vox Media than with any newspaper, the Times realizes the need to structure appealing containers for specific kinds of content. For the developers and designers at the Times that translates into more experimenting with how the company presents its journalism, Adleman said.

“We’ll continue to evolve how we provide really great experiences for readers and finding new and better ways to incorporate more interesting materials into the story experience,” he said.

August 28 2011

17:10

New York Times' DealBook: an investor perspective but for whom else?

New York Times :: When the world economic system shuddered and stock markets dropped, Arthur S. Brisbane, New York Times, was left wondering whether The Times should have spent its money not on expanding DealBook but on enlarging its stable of journalists aimed at the wider subjects of international banks and sovereign debt.

New signs of systemic disease emerged last week, particularly in Europe, where the European Central Bank rushed to shore up Italian sovereign debt. Although DealBook ran a couple of columns calling attention to this threat, the developments made clearer that this subject requires in-depth investigating of a complex ecosystem whose inner workings may be just as opaque as the derivatives-larded American banking network that imploded in 2008.

DealBook might help The Times build a niche audience online, but it isn’t designed to address broader issues like this. 

Continue to read Arthur S. Brisbane, www.nytimes.com

March 12 2010

15:00

This Week in Review: Plagiarism and the link, location and context at SXSW, and advice for newspapers

[Every Friday, Mark Coddington sums up the week’s top stories about the future of news and the debates that grew up around them. —Josh]

The Times, plagiarism and the link: A few weeks ago, the resignations of two journalists from The Daily Beast and The New York Times accused of plagiarism had us talking about how the culture of the web affects that age-old journalistic sin. That discussion was revived this week by the Times’ public editor, Clark Hoyt, whose postmortem on the Zachery Kouwe scandal appeared Sunday. Hoyt concluded that the Times “owes readers a full accounting” of how Kouwe’s plagiarism occurred, and he also called out DealBook, the Times’ business blog for which Kouwe wrote, questioning its hyper-competitive nature and saying it needs more oversight. (In an accompanying blog post, Hoyt also said the Times needs to look closer at implementing plagiarism prevention software.)

Reuters’ Felix Salmon challenged Hoyt’s assertion, saying that the Times’ problem was not that its ethics were too steeped in the ethos of the blogosphere, but that they aren’t bloggy enough. Channeling CUNY prof Jeff Jarvis’ catchphrase “Do what you do best and link to the rest,” Salmon chastised Kouwe and other Times bloggers for rewriting stories that other online news organizations beat them to, rather than simply linking to them. “The problem, here, is that the bloggers at places like the NYT and the WSJ are print reporters, and aren’t really bloggers at heart,” Salmon wrote.

Michael Roston made a similar argument at True/Slant the first time this came up, and ex-newspaperman Mathew Ingram strode to Salmon’s defense this time with an eloquent defense of the link. It’s not just a practice for geeky insiders, he argues; it’s “a fundamental aspect of writing for the web.” (Also at True/Slant, Paul Smalera made a similar Jarvis-esque argument.) In a lengthy Twitter exchange with Salmon, Times editor Patrick LaForge countered that the Times does link more than most newspapers, and Kouwe was an exception.

Jason Fry, a former blogger for the Wall Street Journal, agreed with Ingram and Smalera, but theorizes that the Times’ linking problem is not so much a refusal to play by the web’s rules as “an unthinking perpetuation of print values that are past their sell-by date.” Those values, he says, are scoops, which, as he argued further in a more sports-centric column, readers on the web just don’t care about as much as they used to.

Location prepares for liftoff: The massive music/tech gathering South By Southwest (or, in webspeak, SXSW) starts today in Austin, Texas, so I’m sure you’ll see a lot of ideas making their way from Austin to next week’s review. If early predictions are any indication, one of the ideas we’ll be talking about is geolocation — services like Foursquare and Gowalla that use your mobile device to give and broadcast location-specific information to and about you. In anticipation of this geolocation hype, CNET has given us a pre-SXSW primer on location-based services.

Facebook jump-started the location buzz by apparently leaking word to The New York Times that it’s going to unveil a new location-based feature next month. Silicon Alley Insider does a quick pro-and-con rundown of the major location platforms, and ReadWriteWeb wonders whether Facebook’s typically privacy-guarding users will go for this.

The major implication of this development for news organizations, I think, is the fact that Facebook’s jump onto the location train is going to send it hurtling forward far, far faster than it’s been going. Within as little as a year, location could go from the domain of early-adopting smartphone addicts to being a mainstream staple of social media, similar to the boom that Facebook itself saw once it was opened beyond college campuses. That means news organizations have to be there, too, developing location-based methods of delivering news and information. We’ve known for a while that this was coming; now we know it’s close.

The future of context: South By Southwest also includes bunches of fascinating tech/media/journalism panels, and one of them that’s given us a sneak preview is Monday’s panel called “The Future of Context.” Two of the panelists, former web reporter and editor Matt Thompson and NYU professor Jay Rosen, have published versions of their opening statements online, and both pieces are great food for thought. Thompson’s is a must-read: He describes the difference between day-to-day headline- and development-oriented information about news stories that he calls “episodic” and the “systemic knowledge” that forms our fundamental framework for understanding an issue. Thompson notes how broken the traditional news system’s way of intertwining those two forms of knowledge are, and he asks us how we can do it better online.

Rosen’s post is in less of a finished format, but it has a number of interesting thoughts, including a quick rundown of reasons that newsrooms don’t do explanatory journalism better. Cluetrain Manifesto co-author Doc Searls ties together both Rosen’s and Thompson’s thoughts and talks a bit more about the centrality of stories in pulling all that information together.

Tech execs’ advice for newspapers: Traditional news organizations got a couple of pieces of advice this week from two relatively big-time folks in the tech world. First, Netscape co-founder Marc Andreessen gave an interview with TechCrunch’s Erick Schonfeld in which he told newspaper execs to “burn the boats” and commit wholeheartedly to the web, rather than finding way to prop up modified print models. He used the iPad as a litmus test for this philosophy, noting that “All the new [web] companies are not spending a nanosecond on the iPad or thinking of ways to charge for content. The older companies, that is all they are thinking about.”

Not everyone agreed: Newspaper Death Watch’s Paul Gillin said publishers’ current strategy, which includes keeping the print model around, is an intelligent one: They’re milking the print-based profits they have while trying to manage their business down to a level where they can transfer it over to a web-based model. News business expert Alan Mutter offered a more pointed counterargument: “It doesn’t take a certifiable Silicon Valley genius to see that no business can walk away from some 90% of its revenue base without imploding.”

Second, Google chief economist Hal Varian spoke at a Federal Trade Commission hearing about the economics of newspapers, advising newspapers that rather than charging for online content, they should be experimenting like crazy. (Varian’s summary and audio are at Google’s Public Policy Blog, and the full text, slides and Martin Langeveld’s summary are here at the Lab. Sync ‘em up and you can pretty much recreate the presentation yourself.) After briefly outlining the status of newspaper circulation and its print and online advertising, Varian also suggests that newspapers make better use of the demographic information they have of their online readers. Over at GigaOM, Mathew Ingram seconds Varian’s comments on engagement, imploring newspapers to actually use the interactive tools that they already have at their sites.

Reading roundup: We’ll start with our now-weekly summary of iPad stuff: Apple announced last week that you can preorder iPads as of today, and they’ll be released April 3. That could be only the beginning — an exec with the semiconductor IP company ARM told ComputerWorld we could see 50 similar tablet devices out this year. Multimedia journalist Mark Luckie urged media outlets to develop iPad apps, and Mac and iPhone developer Matt Gemmell delved into the finer points of iPad app design. (It’s not “like an iPhone, only bigger,” he says.)

I have two long, thought-provoking pieces on journalism, both courtesy of the Columbia Journalism Review. First, Megan Garber (now with the Lab) has a sharp essay on the public’s growing fixation on authorship that’s led to so much mistrust in journalism — and how journalists helped bring that fixation on. It’s a long, deep-thinking piece, but it’s well worth reading all the way through Garber’s cogent argument. Her concluding suggestions for news orgs regarding authority and identity are particularly interesting, with nuggets like “Transparency may be the new objectivity; but we need to shift our definition of ‘transparency’: from ‘the revelation of potential biases,’ and toward ‘the revelation of the journalistic process.’”

Second, CJR has the text of Illinois professor Robert McChesney’s speech this week to the FTC, in which he makes the case for a government subsidy of news organizations. McChesney and The Nation’s John Nichols have made this case in several places with a new book, “The Death and Life of American Journalism,” on the shelves, but it’s helpful to have a comprehensive version of it in one spot online.

Finally, the Online Journalism Review’s Robert Niles has a simple tip for newspaper publishers looking to stave off their organizations’ decline: Learn to understand technology from the consumer’s perspective. That means, well, consuming technology. Niles provides a to-do list you can hand to your bosses to help get them started.

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