In a standing-room only session at the World News Media Congress in Glasgow, Mark Thompson, president and CEO of The New York Times company, sat down with Tina Stiegler, executive-in-residence of Norway’s StartupLab, to discuss the past, present and future of one of the world’s most successful news brands.
Among other insights, he shared why he believes innovation is regularly “murdered” by executive decision-makers, why the success of The Times’ Daily podcast has led to the creation of an entirely new audience, and whether he is more alarmed by Donald Trump or the Brexit saga.
What scares Mark Thompson?
While the NYT has undeniably benefited from the ‘Trump bump’, it’s always tempered by the knowledge that the rise of Trump’s particular brand of politics was as a result of some major societal trends that have been mirrored in Britain. Despite those similarities, Thompson argues that America is better placed to deal with the symptoms, if not the cause:
“There’s more than one way a country can screw up its politics. The idea that we can reinvent ourselves, and we can come back with new ideas, that is very present in the US. You can feel in the UK this creeping paralysis, [a sense that] ‘maybe we can’t change’. I now think Brexit is a play by Samuel Beckett.”
The core of the NYT will always be its news
With the stated goal of reaching 10 million digital subscribers in the next few years, there actually has been a lot of buzz about the NYT’s other subscription products, such as its standalone crossword app and upcoming parenting product. Despite that, Thompson is keen to note that the core of the business will always be focused on quality journalism, which has allowed it to exist as long as it has, and is now part of a virtuous circle of reinvestment:
“To be honest, the business of the NYT is about making the main news, opinion and feature-based NYT edition. Investing in that is by far the biggest thing we have to do.
“If you invest in newsrooms, you get the best journalists in the world, people will want to consume it. They fall in love with the product, and the money they pay will pay for more journalists.”
He compared The Times’ continued investment to that of Netflix’s pouring money into creating high-quality television conent.