It has been a fascinating decade for The New York Times, a newspaper that has done perhaps more than any of its rivals to recalibrate online news media business models.
Much of the success of its paid for content programme though has been underpinned by its innovative use of technology. Ensuring that its apps and payment systems work seamlessly has been a significant challenge which the paper has more than risen to.
At DIS 2019, Nick Rockwell, Chief Technology Officer of the New York Times will talk about how technology has revolutionised the Times. He will also look at how emerging technologies, like machine learning, are powering the next potential paradigm shift in online media- personalisation of content.
Tell us a bit about yourself - what was your career path to the NTY? And what is your current role there?
I am the Chief Technology Officer at the New York Times, which is a role overseeing all technology, for product development, IT, data, and even the tech in the printing operation. I joined three years ago directly into this role.
What were the key things you learned about media and technology from your time at Condé Nast?
I have had a long career in media and technology, and I certainly learned from my experience at Condé, and continue to learn more every day. At Condé, I really got to exercise joining up the product roadmaps with the strategy. We worked hard to make sure that we were focused on the most important things, and the right metrics. We tripled traffic and doubled ad revenue in the time that I was there, so I think it worked.
What would you say are the major technology challenges facing the NYT?
We have to make a great product. I would never say that we are a software company, but we rely on our product as the distribution channel for our journalism. So we are in the product development business, and it's hard. We have to ship software every day. We have to build the right things to build engagement with our users, and convince them to pay. So we have a lot to learn.
And what type of technology are you using to solve these issues?
It's all technology. The product is a software product. We feel strongly that the app is the best experience for our users, so we are scaling our ability to develop the app, and obsessing over and testing ideas to make it better. We always are on the cutting edge of storytelling, using media of all kinds, as well as new tech like AR and VR, to bring the news to life for our readers.
How important do you think personalisation will be to the future of content? How are you working on this at the NYT?
I am very focused on using machine learning to more effectively expose the right content to our users to engage them more - always alongside or in the service of our mission of explaining the world. That is, our first job is to share our news judgment with our readers. But, even our most engaged readers don't see most of the journalism that we produce, because there is a lot of it. So how can we make sure that you see the hidden gems that speak to you, beyond the big stories everyone should see?
Do you think that the mainstream media is taking blockchain technology seriously at the moment. Should they be fast tracking it into their platforms? If so in what way?
No, I don't think so. I don't see a killer app for blockchain in the media space. There's some potential for establishing provenance for media assets, but it's not clear that that will make a difference. A working decentralised identity system based on blockchain would be pretty interesting for media as well as for many other use cases, but I don't know if one will emerge.
How are you working with startups? Is it easier to create your own tech or to buy it in?
Neither is easy! :) We work closely with startups, because obviously there is a ton of innovation happening in small companies. Sometimes we just learn from them, sometimes we become a customer, sometimes we may invest or even acquire. At any rate, a healthy dialogue with the startup community is essential today.