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How the New York Times sets journalism's future agenda

‘You can’t wait for someone else – you have to jump first,’ New York Times CEO Mark Thompson said this week to a packed room in Austin, Texas. Speaking at SXSW, a festival featuring the latest in interactive media and emerging technologies, Thompson said his organisation is taking big risks to stay relevant in 2016 – risks that are paying off and inspiring his editorial team.

New York Times is using virtual reality to explore stories like the global refugee crisis, Paris terrorist attacks and presidential election, partnering with GE and Google to fund and execute the project. In 2015, one million subscribers received a Google Cardboard virtual reality viewer to watch the 360-degree films. For one of America’s oldest daily newspapers, this shift into new technology marked a significant change. ‘You need a team for digital projects – that didn’t exist at the New York Times three years ago,’ Thompson says. The historic separation of advertising and editorial in the news media is no longer viable, he adds. The newsroom needs advertising support more than ever and to look for partners to work with to make projects commercially viable.

 

'You need a team for digital projects – that didn't exist at the New York Times three years ago.'

Mark Thompson,
CEO, New York Times

The move into VR required a strategic shift in thinking for Thompson. In the past decade newspaper revenue and traditional print journalism around the world have declined in the face of competition from free online content. Thompson believes journalism’s future lies in the hands of reporters who understand all storytelling components – film, words, graphics and sound – and can establish which ones can best bring a subject to life. ‘We want to be on the frontier,’ he says, and adds that the New York Times is also looking at using data visualisation, augmented reality and podcasting to enhance the readers’ experience.

This year New York Times is expanding its virtual reality operation and will release more films every month, partnering with the likes of Sundance Film Festival. ‘VR puts you in the middle of the story,’ Thompson says and suggests that the immersive power of the medium will change the way audiences consume news.

While there’s still a place for prose-based journalism, Thompson says many pieces will be enhanced with the use of new mediums. ‘The way people absorb stories is changing rapidly and we want to be a part of that,’ he says.

There’s a range of expanding career opportunities for aspiring journalists as a result of these changes. New York Times will hire more digital producers and videographers, for example, but there might be fewer roles for classically trained journalists or for journalists who are not able to work across a range of mediums.

Not all traditional media organisations are embracing future technologies and searching for new models, however. In news organisations that don’t establish new commercially viable ways of working, the future may not be so bright for media professionals. According to Colleen Murrell, Course Director of the Bachelor of Communications (Journalism) at Deakin University, there is a costly gap between website traffic and profits for news publishers – some newspapers appear to be on the brink of financial crisis, even when print and online readerships are high.

Despite the significant challenges news journalism faces, New York Times is focused on both expanding its experimental content and commercial partnership models – it sees the two as intrinsically linked. This approach could be the key to making journalism commercially successful in the future.

Want to study virtual reality? Deakin now offers a Graduate Diploma of Virtual and Augmented Reality starting in Trimester 2, July 2016. Plus from 2017 you can specialise in virtual reality as part of Deakin’s Master of Information Technology and Master of Information Technology (Professional).

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