The role of blogs at The New York Times

I really enjoyed a throwback piece on Nieman Lab today, where Joseph Lichterman reminisced with some New York Times folks about the earliest blogs at the TimesΒ (which have run on WordPress since their inception).

Blogs have had a roller coaster ride at the Times. They ramped up a ton of them, and now are on a slow process of removing many of those, keeping only mainstays. I think they still maintain around a dozen of them, but I'm having a hard time finding the number.

Here are some of my favorite snippets from the interview, which primarily focused on the City Room blog, if you don't have time for the whole thing:

I was like the guy in the white coat. If you wanted to start a blog, you could. You didn’t have to have meetings or much of anything. I tried to find enthusiasts and cajole different people, and, yes, there was technical development, but presto there would be blogs.

My early first duties were to help figure out the production workflow. None of us had spent a long time in WordPress at that point. I had worked on some other WordPress blogs before I joined, so I had a little bit of knowledge on everything from publishing to scheduling to producing images. It sounds crazy now, but those were new reflexes for us, new muscles.

While it might take 15 or 20 minutes in those days for a story to work its way through the Times’ proprietary CMS and onto its website, WordPress let the blogs publish immediately.

We were able to not do the typical Internet coverage of the time, which was to repeat the rumor. We actually nailed it down and had reporting. We wanted to be connected with the desk, and not be a blog off in the corner that was not tied in with the Metro desk overall. That’s an important thing.
Blogs like City Room, and also The Lede and Dealbook, taught the newsroom that this was a powerful form of journalism that we couldn’t ignore, and that everyone had to have a role in it.

One of the last major breaking news stories City Room covered was Hurricane Sandy. Because the blog was still run on WordPress, staffers could liveblog throughout the storm and its aftermath.

One of the issues with blogs at the Times was they were competing with the main website's own sections, hence why many started to shut down. Basically, a blog post would be put up as breaking news, then there would be a full “web story”, then the article in the paper:

I did a big audit in 2014 about closing down many of the blogs. The success of a lot of the blogs was, in some ways, part of their downfall. For lack of a better term, they started competing with the existing sections.

Although the Times has embraced digital, it seems they have a hard time letting the blog post be the story alone. It doesn't seem as much an issue of WordPress as it is their own editorial strategy, alongside improvements in speed (from the 15 minutes to post early days) of their traditional CMS.

We were also in a time where the existing CMS for the rest of the [Times website] was capable of doing a lot more things. We needed to unify our strategy for covering the city. Having two different homepages was a problem.

It's pretty neat to get inside the organization with an interview like this. Check it out on Nieman Lab.

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