...Many media companies and publishers do occasional customer surveys or focus groups. But these tend to be primarily marketing exercises, and ultimately just reinforce existing design and content decisions that have already been made by editors. For the most part, such organizations see their job as coming up with great ideas and producing great content — a process that usually takes place with zero input from readers — and then delivering that content on a variety of platforms. In effect, a one-way relationship.
...n order to do that properly, you have to experiment, and iterate rapidly, and most of all use data to watch what your users (or readers, or customers, whatever you choose to call them) are doing with your product.
Take Snow Fall as a cautionary example — the wonderfully designed, wildly popular multimedia project the New York Times released in 2012 about the aftermath of an avalanche. It was obvious that dozens of designers and developers and writers and editors had spent thousands of hours on the article, and it showed. It was beautiful. But according to comments made recently by former NYT digital strategist Aron Pilhofer — now director of digital at The Guardian — despite the massive investment of resources, the newspaper had no analytics attached to the project.
How do you make that kind of cultural change within a traditional media organization? I don’t really know, but appointing half a dozen longtime newspaper insiders to senior jobs, as the NYT’s new executive editor recently did, doesn’t seem like a great start to me, to be brutally honest.
There are some hints of evolution even at the Times: apps like NYT Now are an attempt to do things somewhat differently, and even incremental efforts like putting links to other websites on the front page — a top-secret project that no doubt took months to plan and approve — are worthwhile steps, tiny as they may be. Cultures don’t change overnight. But the clock is ticking, and more flexible players like Quartz and BuzzFeed have a head start.