@ WebbyConnect: Will The NYT Go The Way Of The Dinosaurs? Sulzberger Responds

Will the print version of the New York Times still be around in 10 years? New York Times Chairman and Publisher Arthur Sulzberger tackled that question following his keynote at the WebbyConnect conference this morning: “The heart of the answer must be that we can’t care. We do care. I care very much, but we must be where people want us to be for their information… Print is going to be here, I believe, for a very long time.” The NYT is more comfortable than ever with experimentation and launching services in beta, he said. “The thought is that we have to get past the thought that it has to be perfect” on day one. “If you’re not prepared to occasionally fail, you’re not trying hard enough.” Sulzberger began his keynote with some pointed words on the worsening economy. “It is tempting to hope that what we are witnessing is just a temporary readjustment and some massive reboot of the financial system will solve all of our problems,” but “there is a lot of bad debt out there.” He cautioned that something more significant is yet to come. “What we have learned is that we will have a far better chance of making it through” this period with a fair amount of criticism, he added. Sulzberger then dove into a series of observations on weaknesses and strengths he sees in journalism today and where The New York Times is making investments for future growth. – Content: Sulzberger: “We now compete with companies that don’t even create content,” and yet “quality content matters enormously… it enables us to make the decisions necessary to keep democracy alive.” Throughout U.S. history, there has been “an inevitable flight to quality journalism” during particularly tough times. Regardless of where people sit on the ideological spectrum, they are thirsty for accurate information online. Blogs and pure-digital news organizations add both “superb” and “horrifying” coverage to the mix. “All news organizations are human enterprises. We will all make mistakes.” What separates quality from hyperbole is the willingness to admit to those mistakes and always committing to improve. “The flow of false information on the web is an increasingly powerful force and we all know that… The internet is democratizing the narrative by fundamentally altering how information is disseminated.” And still, there is an incredible need for journalists and readers to maintain a historical perspective. “Every weather disturbance is the storm of the century,” he gave as one example of “journalistic hyperbole.” – Convergence and business models: Before 2000, most people talked about convergence as if media and information would come to us on one device, but the number of devices used to access content has multiplied. The convergence discussion today is pegged around the end user being at the center of the experience on multiple devices. “We call this intelligent content delivery,” and NYT is re-tooling its operations to deliver on that vision. The newspaper’s research and development division, which was created in 2006, is working toward that goal while NYT searches for business models that will sustain growth online. NYT’s goal is to attract more users, increase engagement and drive revenue from that. One example of NYT’s shift is TimesExtra, a new service that pulls headlines in from other news organizations and blogs to pair with relevant coverage from NYT. The long-held commandment in newsrooms to avoid linking to outside sites is eroding. Post-TimesSelect: “The era of the walled garden is over… future success on the internet is about overcoming traditional thinking.” Another example is the NYT’s former pay wall for TimesSelect. While it generated significant revenue for three years, the for-fee-only content that was “hiding” the “least commoditize-able” talent at the paper had to come down in order for the paper’s online presence to grow. ”Had the wall remained we would not be seeing the growth that we see today in our numbers. We’re up 40 percent this year… We knew we could do better by freeing up that content.”