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Archive for September 29th, 2014

In a post earlier today, I asked the question I would have asked Friday at a panel on the New York Times Innovation report (I was at the microphone, next to speak, when time ran out).

My question:

Why didn’t the Times publish the innovation report itself? And what does it say about the issues the report was addressing that the Times did not publish the report itself and was even surprised that it leaked to Buzzfeed and created such a stir?

Amy O'Leary

Amy O’Leary, Twitter avatar used with permission

Amy O’Leary, the Times’ Deputy Editor, Digital Operations, sent this response by email (I added the links and embedded the tweet):

Thank you so much for your question! I wish we’d had more time during the panel and had been able to get to it!

This is a really common question that we’ve been asked many times. Of course, it seems like the supreme irony that a report designed to tackle issues of digital innovation was printed out, on heavy stock paper,* for small distribution, which ultimately ended up going viral on a grainy photocopied PDF shared on Buzzfeed.  As I tweeted during on Friday, this irony was not lost on any of us that worked on the report.

Of course there are very good reasons why any internal strategy document at any company should remain private — it might contain confidential data, or present a roadmap for competitors to strategize around — but in hindsight, I think we were all glad the report ended up being a public document, and its release has opened up more conversations in the newsroom about the positive effects of a more public kind of conversation around these questions.

But the really simple answer to your question was that the report was commissioned by Jill Abramson, and it was up to her and her senior leadership team to decide what they wanted to do with it. (Keep in mind that when we delivered the report, as a group, we had no idea if the senior leadership of The Times would embrace any of these recommendations. That they ended up enthusiastically embracing all of our recommendations was a (pleasant) surprise to us.) And if I recall correctly, there was at least one question I heard in a meeting with newsroom leaders about whether the full report should be released more widely.  This was shortly before events unfolded which overtook that conversation.

I hope that’s helpful!

All best,
Amy

* I was the one who went to the Office Depot to buy that heavy stock paper. It was really nice quality!

Thanks to Amy for that response (and for quoting me in the report). I don’t have further comment, except to say that I’m pleased it was published, pleased that people at the Times are glad that it was published and I hope that everyone will agree to publish it right away if the Times does an internal study this important again. (It would be so much better as a Times interactive project or at least a hyperlinked document than on that heavy stock paper.)

And here’s that grainy PDF (my mention is on Page 87, and I’m also quoted but not named on Page 15, the quote about Project Unbolt):

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One of the most interesting sessions of the Online News Association conference in Chicago last week was a discussion of the New York Times Innovation report. Andrew Beaujon (a former TBD colleague) wrote an excellent account of the session for Poynter, so I won’t recount it here. But I’ll raise the question I didn’t get to ask. As my friend and former colleague Mandy Jenkins noted, I was lined up at a microphone to take my turn asking questions:

But Swisher and Jarvis both asked follow-up questions and we ran out of time with me at the microphone, next in line. Friends noticed.

Beyond the tweets, that was kind of the greeting for much of the rest of the conference, when I would encounter friends and even strangers (or Twitter friends I had not yet met). Again and again, people asked what I was going to ask.

So here’s my question:

Why didn’t the Times publish the innovation report itself? And what does it say about the issues the report was addressing that the Times did not publish the report itself and was even surprised that it leaked to Buzzfeed and created such a stir?

(Amy O’Leary had opened the panel discussion by telling of her surprise when Buzzfeed published the report.)

I’ve already blogged twice about the Times report, and I’ve blogged multiple times about the importance of transparency. So I won’t belabor the point here. But I’ll invite O’Leary (or anyone at the Times) to answer in a comment or guest post here, by email — stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com — or on a Times format (I’ll quote it and link to it).

Like Swisher and Jarvis, I’ll include a few follow-up questions, too: Why didn’t the Times publish the report? Was there even a discussion about whether to publish the report and what to do if it leaked? Was the committee satisfied with the watered-down summary that was published, and did anyone think that wouldn’t stimulate interest in obtaining the real report? Has the response to the report increased transparency to the point that such a report would be published today?

Looks like I’ll be getting an answer. I’ll update here when I do (or perhaps make it a separate guest post):

It was an interesting panel, but I want to know more.

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