If you haven’t already read the New York Times‘ leaked digital strategy, here it is for you. If you’re a publisher, and you are not digital native, I’m sure you will want to have a look if you haven’t devoured this document already. It’s a pretty truthful picture of where the newspaper we can’t imagine a world without has to be heading if it wants to survive.
Here’s the truth: you may think your home page is important, but it isn’t. You may think you have control about what news your readers read, but you don’t. Even Google, whose algorithm updates are like a roller coaster on which you have ridden for more than a decade, does not. In most cases, especially those of news, social media does.
Only a third of the New York Times’ readers ever visit the home page. The rest go directly to what they want to read by way of Twitter and Facebook links from their friends or their news feeds. No newsroom can tell us anymore what we should read. So it’s up to the business side of the house to find out what we DO read. To find out what its readers are doing, the Times keeps analytics. And analytics, in the case of digital news sites, will dictate what’s being published if the newspaper wants to survive.
For reporters and editors who are used to being the determinants of what news people will see, this is a shocking shift.
News used to be a destination, and you would go find it on your driveway and in your browser. Now you’re the destination, and “information—status updates, photos of your friends, videos of Solange, and sometimes even news articles—come at you; they find you,” Quartz‘s Zach Seward writes.
If the clicks aren’t coming from home pages, where are they coming from? Facebook, Twitter, social media, and the mix of email and chat services summed up as “dark social” (dark, because it’s hard for publishers to trace). Here’s the incoming traffic data from the BuzzFeed network (a bundle of popular sites including BuzzFeed, Huffington Post, the Times, New York magazine, and The Atlantic) in the first three months of 2014.