The New York Times is chasing international readers with a fresh $50 million, according to an announcement that the newspaper issued on Thursday. “[B]ecause our digital report is still designed and produced mainly for a U.S. audience, we have not come close to realizing our potential to attract readers outside our home market,” reads the announcement from Publisher Arthur Sulzberberg Jr., CEO Mark Thompson and Executive Editor Dean Baquet.
That the newspaper is getting aggressive overseas isn’t news: Baquet in a memo earlier this year commented on the effort, and a mission statement titled “Our Path Forward” last fall pledged to turn the New York Times into an international institution, just “as we once successfully turned a metro paper into a national one.”
The Times already has a Spanish-language website and one in China as well. A broader initiative is afoot, however: “We intend to cultivate a much larger and deeper readership in core markets abroad and set up teams to pursue cross-market, pan-regional topics we believe The Times can dominate journalistically, appealing to readers and advertisers alike,” reads the announcement, which formalized the creation of NYT Global, the paper’s team entrusted with international digital growth. Top officials include Joe Kahn (assistant masthead editor, International), Stephen Dunbar-Johnson (international president) and Lydia Polgreen (associate masthead editor and editorial director for NYT Global).
From the announcement: “Achieving these goals will require a concerted shift in mindset, culture and incentives across our organization. Central to that will be all of us putting international readers at the core of our decision-making.”
And that’s the sentence that stopped the Erik Wemple Blog. What in the world does it mean to put “international readers at the core of our decision-making”? How does a newsroom of some 1,300 staffers accomplish such a squishy-sounding imperative?
So we asked Kahn, who explained it. A big part of Kahn’s mission is to mobilize that newsroom to capture international readers. “It’s looking across the newsroom at essentially everything we cover — from culture to sports to science and climate change to technology and business — and asking how we can better engage with international readers on those topics even when the topics are quintessentially American.”
OK, so how do you do that?
Start by eschewing long, anecdotal ledes, says Kahn. This “dated” form of storytelling doesn’t translate, says Kahn.
Then get more sophisticated translators, Kahn! This blog will not stand for the thrashing of the long anecdotal lede.
Next: Do explanatory stories. Kahn & Co. have found that the New York Times does remarkably well with European readers when it covers the crises in the European Union “from the perspective of foreigners observing it…We over-index in Europe for our European coverage.” Such coverage is by no means as granular as the coverage in European outlets. “They cover it from own national perspective. They’re one layer deeper in the weeds than we cover it,” says Kahn. And that’s just the point: There’s a whole world of readers out there who want less narrow and more panoramic coverage.
That particular lesson has implications for how Kahn will extract world-friendly material from the New York Times newsroom. Amid all the minute coverage of politics, for example, the newspaper needs to find ways to serve an audience that cannot name all of Bernie Sanders’ advisers or that cannot recite how many times PolitiFact has nailed Donald Trump. “What we want to do is find ways on stories like that [U.S. politics] that we don’t forget about a much larger readership that is nowhere is near as engaged as our traditional audience,” says Kahn, who calls this target group the “significantly less addicted reader.”
Will everyone’s workloads double now? No, says Kahn, who says that the daily URL output of the newsroom — 1,300-strong — won’t have to jump from 300 to, say, 350. It’s all about “looking for opportunities in the realm of what we’re reporting,” he says.
Asked how the company will allocate the $50 million, Kahn cites a number of initiatives, including “enhanced coverage” in certain English-speaking markets; funding for “pilot programs and translated products in a number of different languages” as well as technology upgrades. The money will also assist the paper’s consumer marketing and advertising teams to dig into overseas markets.