The folks at The New York Times on Thursday unveiled a bold plan for world domination—“NYT Global”—in which America’s most influential news organization will try to replicate its power and reach across the planet.
In other words, in the best-case scenario, it will be the journalistic equivalent of the Roman Empire (but without, one hopes, that sad and inexorable decline and fall).
“Don’t forget—we already have substantial reporting assets abroad. There’s already a huge presence in Europe, a huge presence in Asia,” Executive Editor Dean Baquet told The Daily Beast. “So it’s not like the New York Times is having to build an international operation from scratch.”
“Around a third of our monthly uniques come from outside the U.S. already,” said Times Co. chief executive Mark Thompson, himself a British import as the former head of the BBC. The outlet’s digital audience is estimated at 90 million readers per month—a figure that doesn’t include mobile users outside the United States.
“We’d like to grow that and, perhaps even more important, deepen the engagement of those users, and figure how to express the New York Times news report in ways that are more relevant to them,” Thompson added, in a joint phone interview with Baquet.
The Times —which has been producing a Chinese-language news site since 2012 and in February launched a Spanish-language report produced in Mexico City and aimed at Latin America—already boasts loyal readers in 193 countries, who access its news report via ink on paper but, far more widely, in digital form on the web.
America’s newspaper of record, meanwhile, maintains 30 international bureaus staffed by 75 journalists.
While it is likely the Times will add to its international staff to produce NYT Global, Baquet said he is “not sure” by how much, and when.
“I think what The New York Times can do, which I’m not sure other news organizations can do, is cover global issues like technology, books, a lot of aspects of culture, and fashion,” Baquet said. “I mean, we’re already a fashion presence in Europe as well as in New York.”
But now, with an investment of $50 million in seed money over the next three years, the Times is hoping to shed its U.S.-centric perspective to captivate international readers where they live.
It is also part of the Times Co.’s ambitious goal over the next four years to double digital revenue from advertising and paid subscriptions to $800 million—a cash flow designed to insure a future of producing competitive quality journalism.
Baquet, for one, hopes to provide a certain amount of friendly competition to the local news media—although both he and Thompson argued that for international news junkies, reading NYT Global will be in addition to, not a substitution for, consuming the local product.
Yet, answering a question about a major French newspaper, Baquet said: “I think that if I were Le Monde, with all due respect to my friends at Le Monde, the thought that there was a news organization that could cover some theater in Europe, and put it in the broader context—I would see that as competition for me.
“That doesn’t mean that we’ll cover every play or every opera in Paris,” Baquet added. “Some people think of California as a foreign country, but as the former editor of the Los Angeles Times I never worried that the New York Times was going to cover every theater opening in LA. But I was worried that a big, smart New York Times cultural writer would be able to cover theater in a way that would entice people who care about good theater.”
Thus Baquet tactfully threw down the gantlet.
Competing with news outlets in various countries will undoubtedly involve, over the longer term, bulking up staff and producing visual and written content in a variety of idioms; for now, however, Baquet said he wants to remain “coy” about his plans, and Thompson refused to specify a timetable for Timesian hegemony.
“No!—we’re not going to do that,” Thompson protested, to raucous laughter from Baquet, when asked to give a sense of the rollout of NYT Global. “When we’re ready to announce other things, we’ll do that. We’ll do it probably one by one.”
Thompson added: “The way we’re approaching it is step by step. What we’re doing in Mexico is like an experiment. It’s a laboratory.”
Before the Spanish-language news site’s formal launch, Thompson said, Times journalists and digital experts conducted “multiple experiments, with different combinations of social media, original journalism, and opinion, to see what was resonating with audiences. And we continue to experiment with that project.
“Not all of the other projects, by the way, will be in other languages. We’re very interested in how we can become more relevant and valuable to people in the English-speaking world”—such as in Canada, Britain and Australia, “where we already have significant numbers of readers,” Thompson continued, “all of which are sophisticated media markets. How can we be a better complement there? We do very well in those markets already.”
Thompson expressed caution about the prospect of turning NYT Global into a modern-day Tower of Babel, in which Times content is going to be quickly translated into a multiplicity of foreign tongues.
“It’s complicated—the language issue,” he said, “because around the world, the kind of people who are likely to become deeply engaged with Times journalism are people who, though English is not their first language, are very comfortable in English. It’s not obvious that we’ll have to go into a colossal exercise in dozens of languages to achieve the goals we’ve got internationally.”
Baquet, meanwhile, predicted that NYT Global will initially emphasize “issues without borders,” such as global warming and gender politics, over journalism of regional or local interest.
“I don’t think people ever bought The New York Times [in the U.K., which accounts for 2.5 percent of the outlet’s digital traffic] with the expectation that there would be daily coverage of Parliament,” Baquet said. “We really plan to put a lot of energy into the subjects that will touch all audiences…on the subjects that don’t have borders.”