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trueHUE® Water cooler stories
Sulzberger: This is a really difficult time for media. Journalists and journalism are under attack by political forces all over the globe. Trust in media is declining, the business models are changing. Anyone who cares about journalism should be very worried about this. But I don’t feel a high degree of weight falling on me personally.
DER SPIEGEL: Have President Trump’s constant attacks helped forge the team together?
Sulzberger: What helped to forge this team together is a profound and growing concern that our vision for quality journalism is at risk of disappearing around the country and around the world: journalism that takes time, that takes travel, that takes expertise, that takes lawyers and fact-checking. Time and resources are the two things that are most at risk in our profession right now. The New York Times is trying to lead the fight to prove that this type of journalism has a path forward in the world right now. That is our mission.
DER SPIEGEL: Doesn’t the media, including The New York Times, participate in Trump’s reality show by constantly repeating what he says and tweets?
Sulzberger: Let me start by pushing back on the word “the media.” I really find it a problematic word. Cable news operates with a fundamentally different set of standards than most digital and traditional publishers. And many of “the media” lack the resources The New York Times has to deeply interrogate what is happening. Our piece on the president’s wealth and his tax schemes took 18 months, three full-time reporters and behind them an army of editors and lawyers who helped to bring that story to life. That’s a different thing than having a panel of experts five minutes after the president’s speech saying they agree or disagree.
DER SPIEGEL: In 2014, you led a team that drafted the Innovation Report, which painted a gloomy picture of the state of the paper: The Times, the report warned, was in danger of being left behind by digital competitors such as The Huffington Post or BuzzFeed. If you had to write a new report today, how would you describe the current state of The New York Times?
Sulzberger: We are further along than I ever could have hoped. At that time the number of people reading us was shrinking, our subscriber growth had plateaued. There was effectively a caste system in the newsroom with traditional journalists and then a lower caste of people in digital roles. This group weren’t even allowed to have business cards, because they were told they didn’t want them to be confused for real journalists. Our strategy was built too much around print, too much around advertising. Today we are reaching 150 million people a month, we have 4 million paying subscribers, which is probably more than twice what we had when the Innovation Report was released. But the world and our business are changing fast, and we constantly have to interrogate what we’re doing, and adapt.
DER SPIEGEL: “The Daily” was your last big innovation. What’s next?
Sulzberger: We’re launching a TV show called “The Weekly” in a matter of months now. “The Daily” has shown that the journalism we do in print and online can really work in a medium like audio, and that it can reach totally new, younger audiences. With a television show I believe we can do the exact same thing. There hasn’t been too much serious journalism there, and I believe that people want it. TV is yet another part of our strategy.
DER SPIEGEL: Does the printed newspaper have a future at all?
Sulzberger: I think print has a much longer life than most people assume. A million people pay for the paper, it’s a really loyal base of readers, they spend a lot of time with the paper each week, and it still has a large and profitable advertising business. As long as people want the news in print, I hope we’re able to continue delivering it that way.
DER SPIEGEL: Doesn’t the printed newspaper stand in the way of your online strategy?
Sulzberger: No, but indeed the major change that this company has gone through in the last five years is that we are no longer built around print, but rather around the assumption that we are a digital news organization that also has a print newspaper. We cannot count on print to sustain our journalistic ambitions in the near future. Digital revenue has to carry the weight of supporting bureaus in Iraq or Afghanistan, of supporting trips to the front lines in Yemen, of supporting 18 months to dig into the president’s finances, of supporting a Washington bureau with 100 reporters. That’s why our focus is on making money in digital.