42 Dave Jones: Journalism at NY Times is good business! INTERVIEW

New York Times, 1997 front page, Mr. Media Interviews
The New York Times, 1997 digital front page
Dave Jones, New York Times, Mr. Media Interviews
Dave Jones, The New York Times

Originally Published March 17, 1997

If daily newspapers are truly on the endangered species list, The New York Times didn’t get the memo.

While other newspapers cut back and staff on pages or blunder their way into electronic publishing, the Gray Lady is adding regional editions in Boston and Washington, D.C. and breaking out sports and culture into stand-alone sections for the first time. It also produces one of the most outstanding electronic newspaper editions and will soon publish color photos and ads.

What does the Times know that other papers don’t?

“We think that good journalism is good business,” says Dave Jones, an assistant managing editor and editor of national editions for the Times. “It has been our experience that, as we have improved the paper, we have prospered. So there’s no reason not to invest more.”

The expansion will be part of Jones’ legacy at the paper. After 34 years with the Times, Jones, 64, will retire next year after shepherding many of these upgrades into existence.

“It’s a busy time,” Jones says, shucking off the legacy notion. “I don’t think about that. We’re charging readers and advertisers more for the paper and we feel we need to give them added value for the higher prices we’re charging.”

Still, at a time when most papers are reducing their news hole — the space given to articles — the Times is making news in media circles with its coming expansion from four daily sections to six — eight by 1999 — made possible by a new $350 million printing press. That press will also make color photos, graphics and ads possible in the daily paper by this fall. (Color currently only appears in the Sunday features sections.)

The Times is also expanding in more unusual ways.

On Feb. 18, for example, the paper launched new regional editions published in and for Washington, D.C., and the Boston/Greater New England area.

“We concluded a few years ago that we would better serve our readers if we could give them a later newspaper,” Jones explains. “We were closing the first edition of the newspaper in New York at 9 o’clock at night, which we deemed too early to give the best service to our readers. What was really driving that was our need to produce papers in time to truck them four hours to Boston and Washington for home delivery.”

By printing regionally, the Times will push back its first edition deadlines this fall in New York, Boston and Washington from 9 p.m. to 11:30 p.m., allowing the inclusion of more late-breaking news, making the paper more competitive in all three metro areas with the 11 o’clock TV news.
The bigger benefit will be the availability of home distribution in many new markets. For example, the Boston Globe, which the Times bought a few years ago, now offers home delivery of both papers across most of New England. In addition, the Times recently announced deals with more than 30 local newspapers around the U.S. and Canada in which the Times‘ national edition will be delivered to homes and newsstands side-by-side with papers such as the Chicago Tribune, Denver Post, Sacramento Bee, Toronto Globe & Mail and Tacoma News-Tribune.

“The regional papers don’t see our paper as a great threat to their fundamental circulation,” Jones says. “And, indeed, it isn’t. We feel we are a second read outside of New York. I find it hard to believe most people would substitute the New York Times for their local newspaper. If they’re interested enough in the Times, I can’t believe they wouldn’t be interested enough in the local news that their paper provides that we can’t. We have other strengths. I think these papers will complement each other. We don’t expect our circulation to surge hugely because of this, but we think greater availability of the paper will benefit us in the long run.”

No doubt. The national edition of the Times — a slimmer, three-section version — already mushroomed from 25,000 daily sales in 1980 to 279,000 daily and 389,000 Sunday.
All editions of the paper will see growth in the months and years ahead. First up: stand-alone sections for sports and culture in the Northeast editions.

“We’re probably the only major metropolitan paper that hasn’t had a separate sports section,” Jones says, acknowledging a major complaint of some readers over the years. “We’ve spent a great deal of effort in recent years improving our sports report. We’ve increased the staff, the news hole and the quality of the work.”

Look for those sections to be first to experiment with color in the months ahead. It’s a monumental change for the world’s most revered newspaper, one not taken lightly.

“We are very sensitive to changes in the paper,” Jones says. “Our readers are very loyal; they don’t like radical change. The paper changed a great deal in recent years but the changes have always been gradual. Color tends to be more stark, more obvious.

“We will apply the same news standards when we go to color that we apply to non-color,” he says. “We’ll have a subtle approach that’s based on news values. Color will gradually be spun out over a period of months. The timetable will be set by how happy we are with how it’s evolving. At some point we’ll have the capacity and the confidence that we know what we’re doing and the event will come along where it makes sense to use color on the front page.”
Why is the New York Times prospering when other papers are not?

“We appeal to people who are really interested in the news,” Jones says. “Most newspapers around the country tend to concentrate on local news and sports; we bring a different perspective. We give more attention to national and international. And I think there’s a large portion of the reading community out there that wants a connection to the culture and sophistication of New York.”

Dave Jones Penn State University

The New York Times corporate headquarters
The New York Times corporate headquarters (Wikipedia)

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