in Digital Media

About the NYT Digital Strategy Report

If you follow the digital media world at all, you probably already know that someone leaked a copy of the New York Timesdigital strategy memo to BuzzFeed. It’s long (and blurry—apparently the digital strategy report was printed, then scanned), but definitely worth a read.

I’m still processing the whole thing, but I do have some quick reactions. First, as I mentioned on Twitter, the suggestions put forward have implications for non-media organizations, as well.

A few bits that particularly resonated for me.

Because we are journalists, we tend to look at our competitors through the lens of content rather than strategy. But BuzzFeed, Huffington Post and USA Today are not succeeding simply because of lists, quizzes, celebrity photos and sports coverage. They are succeeding because of their sophisticated social, search and community-building tools and strategies, and often in spite of their content.

It’s not just journalists who do this. I heard it at least once a day at the Congressional Budget Office. And it’s a not-infrequent comment from researchers at The Century Foundation.

Look, no one is arguing that a deep dive into public private partnerships is going to be as popular as 25 Cats Who Have Given up on Spring. But maybe…just maybe…the reason that HuffPo piece on fast food strikes outperforms the think tank report on which is based is that “Fast Food Failure: How CEO-to-Worker Pay Disparity Undermines the Industry and the Overall Economy” doesn’t exactly scream, “ooh, I want to read that!” The fact that you have to open up a PDF to read the report isn’t helping matters, either. “Fast Food CEOs Make 1,000 Times More Than Their Typical Workers,” on the other hand…that’s something I’ll notice on Facebook.

In the digital world, tagging is a type of structured data–the information that allows things to be searched and sorted and made useful for analysis and innovation. Some of the most successful Internet companies, including Netflix, Facebook and Pandora, have so much structured data…that they have turned the science of surfacing the right piece of content at the right time into the core of thriving businesses.

Everyone forgets about metadata…They think they can just make stuff and then forget about how it is organized in terms of how you describe your content. But all your assets are useless to you unless you have metadata–your archive is full of stuff that is of no value because you can’t find it and don’t know what it’s about.

Be still my nerdy heart. Metadata is what makes digital content so powerful. But the only way it can work is for authors to stop thinking about documents and start thinking about chunks of content. Of course, as the document makes clear, taking metadata seriously means more demands on editors and web producers…and it requires explaining “how crucial this effort is to our long-term success.”

If history is any guide, that last part may well prove more demanding than actually maintaining a good system of metadata.

That’s it for now. Probably more to come later.

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